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Triple Sec: Orange in Spirit

The Origins of Triple Sec

Orange liqueurs are indispensable to the modern bar, adding fruit flavors, complexity, and occasionally sweetness to cocktails. And for the home bartender who enjoys mixing up his or her own libations and impressing friends, the versatility of triple sec liqueur will enable you to mix up more than just a few classics without needing to buy too many other ingredients. The origin stories of orange liqueurs are hazy at best, and the number of brands and styles of orange liqueur on the market can be confusing. Rest assured though, clarity lies ahead. But if you're in a rush, simply scroll to the end for a list of our favourite classics which incorporate Triple Sec liqueur.

A Closer Look at the Timeline

Curacao is generally considered to be the original orange liqueur, created by the Dutch, with dried (Lahara) orange peels shipped to the Netherlands from the island of Curacao. Bols was the first company to produce Curaçao, and while the liqueur is traditionally rum-based, modern iterations are also made with distilled grain spirits, and interestingly Bols Dry Orange is actually based on a molasses distillate. 

Triple sec, originally Curaçao triple sec, is a drier variant of this orange flavoured liqueur, made from the dried peels of bitter and sweet oranges. In comparison with Curaçaos which are generally orange or blue in colour and tend to be sweeter, Triple Secs are clear spirits that are more powerfully zesty orange in flavour. While the French claim to have created the triple sec liqueur style, the Dutch, courtesy of the Lucas Bols Distillery, had already been distilling orange peels to make other orange liqueurs for at least 200 years.


Ingredients and Quality

Triple Sec liqueur is typically between 20 and 40% alc./vol., although better quality examples are usually between 38 and 42%. The liqueurs are usually based on a neutral spirit made from sugar beet. Dried orange peel is then steeped in the neutral alcohol and redistilled out. Oranges are picked at their aromatic peak whilst still green in order to prevent essential oils in the skin being drawn into the fruit as it ripens. It is these powerful essential oils in the unripened skin that flavour Triple Sec.

How the Liqueur Got its Name

There are a few different theories here. 'Sec' is French for dry, so triple sec literally means triple dry. This could be in reference to the triple distillation of the base alcohol (indicating a high quality liqueur), and the flavour being provided by the skins of bitter/unripe [dry] rather than sweet oranges. Cointreau, launched in 1875, claims to be the world's first triple sec producer, and that the name is both in reference to the third evolution of Cointreau's recipe and the three types of orange peel used in that recipe.

How the Legacy of Triple Sec lives on in the Classics

Regardless of whose flag was planted in the sand first, as a style of orange liqueur, Triple Sec has stood the test of time and is without a doubt the most popular orange liqueur found in any modern cocktail bar. Many of the best cocktail classics rely on its sweet, bitter citrussy tones to give them character. Here's a list of our favourite classics that use Triple Sec liqueur. We've chosen one cocktail that's stood the test of time for each base spirit category.

Ode to the Classics made with Triple Sec

These classics are enjoyed as much today as when they were first created, and each comprises a maximum of 4 ingredients. This just goes to show that mixing simple flavours together in the right proportions often brings a clarity of flavour that is hard to beat. For cocktails, the old adage of 'less is more' is practically law.

Triple Sec Cocktail 1: White Lady (Gin-based)

The predecessor to cocktails 2 & 3 on this list, the White Lady is simple, sour, and silky on the lips - you'd be hard pressed to find someone turning their nose up to this one.

40ml Damrak Gin

30ml Bols Triple Sec

15ml Lime Juice

1 egg white (/other foaming agent)

Dry shake all ingredients together vigorously (without ice) for 10-15 seconds, then add cubed ice and shake for a further 10 seconds until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy.

Garnish with a lemon zest twist


Triple Sec Cocktail #2: Cosmopolitan (Vodka-based)

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The Cosmopolitan - made famous by Sex and the City - is a sweet, sour, sultry and seductive martini, and a good-time in a glass. Need we say more.

30ml Bols Vodka

30ml Bols Triple Sec

30ml Cranberry Juice

15ml Lime Juice

Shake all ingredients together with cubed ice for roughly 10 seconds, (fine-)strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy. 

Garnish with a flamed orange zest


Triple Sec Cocktail #3: Margarita (Tequila-based)

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The Margarita takes the White Lady, and substitutes the softness of gin with the robustness of tequila, for a marriage made in heaven. The world's most popular cocktail, and for good reason!

40ml Tequila Blanco

30ml Bols Triple Sec

25ml Lime Juice

Shake all ingredients together with cubed ice for roughly 10 seconds, (fine-)strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy.

Garnish with a lemon zest twist


Triple Sec Cocktail #4: Sidecar (Cognac-based)

The Sidecar - a direct descendent of the Brandy Crusta - goes back at least a century. So named after its presentation, with the remainder of the cocktail supposedly served as an accompanying shot, it is the perfect balance of sweet and sour, and still a firm favourite for those in the know.

40ml Cognac or Armagnac

20ml Bols Triple Sec

20ml Lemon Juice

Shake all ingredients together with cubed ice for roughly 10 seconds, (fine-)strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy.

Garnish with an orange zest twist


Triple Sec Cocktail #5: Daiquiri No.2 (Rum-based)

The Daiquiri No.2 is a variant on the classic Daiquiri, which needs no introduction here. This variant is also crisp, light and refreshing, but has subtle orange notes for a lightly fruity finish.

60ml White Rum

5ml Bols Triple Sec

15ml Lime Juice

15ml Orange Juice

7.5ml sugar syrup

Shake all ingredients together with cubed ice for roughly 10 seconds, (fine-)strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy.

Garnish with a lime zest twist


Triple Sec Cocktail #6: Orange & Lemon Crush (Genever-based)

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The Orange and Lemon Crush is the fruity Dutch cousin of the Brazilian Caipirinha. This variant adds oranges into the mix for a smoother finish with slightly more going on.

30ml Bols Genever

15ml Bols Triple Sec

3 Lemon parts

3 Orange parts

1 Barspoon Cane Sugar

Muddle fruit and cane sugar in the base of a short rocks glass, add crushed ice, and pour all ingredients into the glass. Churn and top up with more crushed ice.

Garnish with both an Orange wedge and a Lemon wedge.

Want to learn how to make these or more cocktails? Visit our Bols Cocktail Gallery & Bols Bartending Academy

Written by Adam van Heerden

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