Liqueur Library #6 – Combier Triple Sec

Combier L’Original is described as being the “world’s first Triple Sec”;  in 1834, the recipe was created in Saumur, France by local confectioners Jean-Baptiste Combier and his wife, Josephine. The recipe uses two types of oranges: sun-dried, bitter Haitian oranges and sweet Valencia oranges. The recipe also includes local spices from the south of France, alcohol from the country’s northwest, and secret ingredients from the Loire Valley.

The orange peels are macerated in high-quality base spirit (96% ABV) and the mixture is then distilled in copper pot stills that are over a century old. Only the heart of the second distillation is kept (the middle cut of the distillation run) and this liquid is rectified through a third distillation, to further enhance and refine it. Natural sugar crystals are then added and the liqueur is reduced in strength to 40% ABV for bottling.

There is some question as to what the “triple” in Triple Sec actually means, but Combier assert that this is with reference to triple distillation and that, for them, a true Triple Sec has to have been distilled three times: firstly, to produce the initial spirit; secondly, for orange maceration; and a final, refining distillation.

Each bottle of Combier has been produced, packaged, and shipped from the same location since the 19th Century.

On its own
Nose: Grappa, mostly, with a hint of vanilla bean, chocolate and orange oil and zesty peel.
Taste: A sweet start, followed by some warmth and a touch of orange and chocolate. The taste is deep and complex, with the orange notes ranging from peel to flesh, to more bitter pith notes and even a touch of orange flower water. Very smooth, fresh and almost juicy. Despite the sweet start, the overall sweetness is rather restrained – lovely.

Triple Sec is used in a whole host of cocktails and, as such, I have tasted the Combier in seven cocktails, each using a different spirit base.

1) Sidecar
[30ml Cognac, 15ml Combier, 15ml Lime Juice – SHAKE]

This makes a good, fresh and citrusy drink. The Courvoisier Cognac works well, adding a woody warmth and a flavour that stands up well to the citrus elements. The Combier brings a range of complex orange notes – sweet, zesty and bitter – that provide an elegant orange finish.

2) Margarita
[30ml Tequila, 20ml Combier, 15ml Lime Juice, 5ml Agave /Sugar Syrup – SHAKE]

A rich and smokey Margarita, with a touch of saltiness. The Combier gives the tequila room to breathe and some zesty lime appears alongside the intricate flavours of the liqueur, predominantly orange peel and orange oil.

3) White Lady
[30ml Dry Gin, 20ml Combier, 15ml Lemon Juice – SHAKE]
Exceptionally smooth, with lots of citrus and a hint of vanilla. Again, this drink has a lot of complexity (I find that the White Lady can sometime be a bit dull), with a whole array of orange flavours. It was crisp at the end, as you would expect from this cocktail, but generally has a lot more personality than your average White Lady.

4) Cosmopolitan
[30ml Stolichnaya Citros, 15ml Combier, 20ml Cranberry Juice, 5ml Lime Juice – SHAKE]

Another excellent cocktail. I used Stolichnaya for extra complexity. This is a well-rounded drink with a range of flavours: the Combier adds some sweetness and its deeper bitter-orange notes work really well with the dry cranberry juice.

5) White Snake
[40ml Combier, 10ml Lemon Juice, 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters – SHAKE]
This was a tasty, but unusual cocktail, as it has the orange liqueur as its base. This means that it’s quite sweet, but there’s a freshness courtesy of the lemon juice and a spicy complexity from the bitters, both of which expand on the already sophisticated characteristics of the liqueur.

6) Scotch Bishop
[30ml Scotch Whisky, 10ml Orange Juice, 10ml Dry Vermouth, 10ml Triple Sec, 1/4tsp Sugar – SHAKE]
The nose had distinctive notes of lime, other citrus and a hint of salt. Exceptionally smooth and creamy (but not thick in texture), this was a fruity cocktail, with lime and orange to start, followed by more complex wood and honey notes from the Scotch. There’s a flash of sugary sweetness before the finish, which itself is medium-dry and slightly savoury, accented with notes of fresh mandarin.

7) Champagne Cocktail
[20ml Combier Liqueur, 80ml Champagne, a dash of bitters]
This is a good way to savour the finer points of the liqueur. Rich and floral orange flavours come through strongly, with some additional vanilla notes. Very tasty, complex and sophisticated. Towards the end, you get a touch of orange bitters and orange flower water; very tasty, indeed.