The 8 Best Triple Secs for a Margarita, According to Bartenders

The secret sauce in a Margarita is quality orange liqueur.

<p>Food & Wine / Pierre Ferrand / Alma Finca / Combier / Getty Images</p>

Food & Wine / Pierre Ferrand / Alma Finca / Combier / Getty Images

Tequila tends to get top billing in a Margarita. But consider triple sec, the cocktail’s supporting actor. Without triple sec, a Margarita is off-kilter and essentially just a Tequila Gimlet. The sweet, orange-flavored liqueur is the key ingredient that adds the drink’s subtle citrus notes offsetting the sharp bite of lime and the punch of liquor.

Beyond Margaritas, the sweet orange liqueur can be employed in many other ways. A half-ounce helps marry the spirits in a Long Island Iced Tea and builds flavor in a Cosmopolitan. Try a quarter cup in your next batch of Lynnette Marrero’s Sauvignon Blanc Sangria, or add some to the limoncello, gin, and Campari-combo of a Pink Lady.

"“The name itself, ‘triple sec,’ comes from the idea that the liqueur was three times more concentrated but still less sweet than other liqueurs on the market. It maintains enough dryness that it allows you to make cocktails like the Margarita or the Sidecar without them getting cloying.” — Lara Creasy, beverage director, Rocket Farm Restaurants"

According to bar industry experts, here are some of the best triple secs and orange liqueurs to use in cocktails. One note: while many of the following bottles are triple secs, there are also a few similar, related styles like curacao, an orange-flavored liqueur popularized on the Dutch island of Curacao, which often incorporates additional botanicals. All will be excellent in a Margarita.

Related: Our Best Margarita Recipes


<p>Food & Wine / Cointreau</p>

Food & Wine / Cointreau

“Invented in 1843, Cointreau set the standard for triple sec, even though Combier is the actual first brand of triple sec,” says Lara Creasy, Rocket Farm Restaurants’ beverage director. “The name itself, ‘triple sec,’ comes from the idea that the liqueur was three times more concentrated but still less sweet than other liqueurs on the market,” she says. “It maintains enough dryness that it allows you to make cocktails like the Margarita or the Sidecar without them getting cloying.”

Lynnette Marrero, veteran bartender and co-founder of Speed Rack, points out that Cointreau, an orange liqueur made from bitter and sweet orange peels was used in the original Margarita recipe over 70 years ago. “Its citrus flavor profile complements the tangy and tart flavors of lime juice, which is a key ingredient in a Margarita,” she says. “I find that adding Cointreau to a Margarita provides a well-rounded and balanced taste, and adds a subtle sweetness and depth of flavor that complements the tartness of the lime juice and the tequila. The orange notes enhance the citrusy character of the drink without overpowering it.”

“Cointreau is always my first choice,” says Stanislav Harcinik of Mirror Bar in Bratislava. “It brings citrusy-zesty aromatics to a Margarita’s flavor profile, and makes the drink even lighter, with its aromatic floral notes that always make me smell it one more time and, of course, [take] another sip.”

Grand Marnier

<p>Food & Wine / Grand Marnier</p>

Food & Wine / Grand Marnier

Zachary Dimmitt, the food and beverage director of Nick’s Quorum Bar & Supper Club in Omaha, leans on Grand Marnier because of its orange undertones and Cognac influence. “That helps to create more depth in a Margarita,” he says. “I automatically reach for this product when someone asks for a Cadillac Margarita.”

The famed French liqueur was introduced by Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle in 1880.

Grand Marnier is made with a base of brandy sourced from five Cognac crus and then blended with an orange distillate. Lapostolle brought on Baccarat to design a plump, short bottle that acts as a nod to the shape of a Cognac still.

Alma Finca

<p>Food & Wine / Alma Finca</p>

Food & Wine / Alma Finca

Eduardo Guerrero shakes up numerous Margaritas as the lead bartender at Etéreo, Auberge Resorts Collection in Riviera Maya, and he swears by Alma Finca, a sour orange liqueur made in the Yucatan Peninsula.

“[Alma Finca] provides a lot of balance to a classic or skinny Margarita,” says Guerrero. “Made with fresh sweet and bitter oranges, citrus blossoms, Persian limes, and spices, it brings a complexity to the beloved Mexican recipe.”

The citrus and botanicals are harvested by a cooperative of local farmers in Mexico and macerated individually for five days before distillation.

Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

<p>Food & Wine / Pierre Ferrand</p>

Food & Wine / Pierre Ferrand

Instead of a triple sec, some bartenders prefer to use dry curacao, a liqueur made with dried orange peels flavored with additional herbs and spices. “I usually opt for Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao in a Margarita,” says Demi Natoli, the beverage director of Graduate Nashville’s food and beverage outlets. “This traditional French [orange liqueur] has more herbs and spices in its blend than a straight orange flavor[ed] triple sec, adding layers of depth to your citrusy beverages.”

Ben Liebman, beverage director for RPM Restaurants, has blind-tested almost every major triple sec and dry curacao. His favorite: a mix of agave nectar and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao. “It gives you the best of both worlds,” he says. “The product by itself is fantastic, giving you the orange profile you look for in a classic Margarita. The addition of agave nectar amplifies the agave of the tequila.”

Alex Pisi, the lead bartender for The Wells in Washington, D.C., also likes to lean on dry curacao. “The basic concept is the same, but the sugar content is lower, resulting in a brighter and more dry orange flavor that allows you to play around with the sweetness in your Margarita.” Like Liebman, Pisi also likes to mix Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao with raw agave nectar. “It makes the most natural-tasting Margarita.”

Combier d’Orange

<p>Food & Wine / Combier</p>

Food & Wine / Combier

First created in 1834 in the Loire Valley by two confectioners, “Combier d’Orange is the perfect orange liqueur for Margaritas,” says Michael Coyne, the director of wine and spirits at Stanly Ranch, Auberge Resorts Collection in Napa Valley. “It is relatively dry which keeps the cocktail in balance without being overly sweet. There’s also this subtle floral note which is fantastic with agave-based spirits.”

Combier d’Orange is made with sweet and bitter orange peels that have been left to dry in the sun before they’re macerated into a neutral spirit and distilled.

Blended Family No.17 Triple Sec

<p>Food & Wine / Blended Family</p>

Food & Wine / Blended Family

Nick Hassiotis, owner of Foundation Social Eatery in Alpharetta, Georgia, is a big fan of Blended Family No.17 Triple Sec, an American-made triple sec crafted by longtime bartender Scott Mayer.

“It uses Florida oranges and it’s produced locally in Georgia,” says Hassiotis. Made with sweet and bitter orange peels and orange blossoms, Blended Family hits all the right notes for a well-made Margarita. “It's super tasty," he says.

Giffard Triple Sec

<p>Food & Wine / Giffard</p>

Food & Wine / Giffard

Simon Sebbah, who leads the beverage program at Grand Tour Hospitality (including Holiday Bar, American Bar, and Saint Theo's) finds that Giffard’s triple sec is an easy, all-purpose option. “I feel like Giffard checks all the boxes: it has a velvety texture and tastes almost like candied orange, with some citrus and almond notes on the finish,” he says. Since the liquid is clear, he also finds it brings a “pleasant texture to drinks” without adding any odd orange hue.

This orange liqueur is made from citrus left to macerate for months in neutral alcohol. The mixture is then distilled three times at low temperatures to ensure the bright citrus notes remain.

Hamilton Petite Canne Shrubb Orange Liqueur

<p>Food & Wine / Hamilton</p>

Food & Wine / Hamilton

“I like to bend the rules a little because my favorite triple sec for a Margarita is not a triple sec at all,” says Stephen Rowe, the co-owner of Minneapolis restaurant Dario. “This is an orange liqueur made from macerating oranges in a rhum agricole base.” A touch of raw Martinique sugar is added for a subtle sweetness.

“It has the grassy soul of agricole rhum mixed with loud flavors of macerated oranges,” says Rowe. “It’s heavier than your typical triple sec, so be warned: a little goes a long way when building a Margarita. That said, even if you are a little heavy-handed with the shrub, you can’t lose.”

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