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Grand Marnier vs Triple Sec – What’s the Difference?

In any well-stocked modern bar, orange liqueur is a must-have. It makes an appearance in so many popular cocktails; such as a sidecar, margarita, cosmopolitan, and even in Long Island iced teas.

These are all very popular cocktails, and so stocking an orange liqueur is vital for any good bar.  

An orange liqueur that has a good quality can even be drunk neat. It is understated and is a bit like the avid workhorse of the alcohol world. It is a beverage that doesn’t only provide fruity flavored, but also complexity, and sweetness. 

However, that being said, the category of orange liqueurs is a bit confusing, and it has distinctions throughout. There are particular brand names that are synonymous with different styles, and the origin tales of each of these many liqueurs are a bit hazy in parts.

Of course, you get the popular Curaçao, but there is also the infamous Triple Sec, and Grand Marnier. Unless you are an expert bartender, chances are you have no idea what the difference is. 

We’re going to take a close look at is Triple Sec and Grand Marnier and what the differences are behind these two orange liqueurs, where they came from, and their tastes.

Particular ingredients in a drink will offer different things, and so, while they are both orange liqueurs, unique tastes can totally change a drink. Let’s see if your drink will taste better for you with Triple Sec or Grand Marnier.

What Is Triple Sec? 

Favorite Triple Sec
Cointreau Orange Liqueur
  • A key ingredient to many of the most popular cocktails in the world
  • Distilled from a blend of all-natural sweet and bitter orange peels
  • Unique flavor and lovely aromatics
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Let’s start off with Triple Sec. This is probably the more popular option, or perhaps the more common (you can check out our list of the best triple secs here). 

Triple Sec would seem to be the French answer to the Dutch Curaçao, which is named for the island from which the fruits in its makeup would be taken from. It is the generic name of an orange liqueur today, much like with ‘vodka’.

Which you could use to describe Ketel One, (see also: Ketel One Vs Tito’s)Smirnoff, Konik’s Tail, and a whole group of other vodka’s. 

This is the generic term for an orange liqueur, however, this does not mean that all orange liqueurs are Triple Sec. 

There is also Cointreau, which is a branded Triple Sec, however, using this does not make any difference than if you were to use an unbranded Triple Sec. However, if you used different Triple Secs in a cocktail, you might notice a difference.

Much like how you would notice the difference if you used Smirnoff in a cocktail, and an unbranded vodka in another. You would taste the difference in quality. 

Triple Sec is an orange-flavored liqueur, as everyone knows. It is drunk as an apéritif, and digestif. A clear spirit, which is fresh on your nose with an overwhelming but tantalizing sweetness, and with an orange taste. 

The taste is betrayed by the smell though, the taste is not quite as potent as the smell.

Although if you are someone who indulges in flavored beverages often, such as herbal tea, you are probably already well acquainted with the concept of how flavored beverages often smell better than they taste. 

It is not sickly sweet, as the smell might suggest, however, it does have a mild heat at the beginning of its rather long finish. 

You might also find that it has a thick mouthfeel as well. Not dissimilar to a weak syrup. Its palatability explains why it is drunk as an apéritif. You could also have it neat over ice if you wanted. However, most find it is best attributed to cocktails. 

Origins Of Triple Sec

We said that the origin stories are complex, and they are. About the only part of its history that is agreed upon is that Triple Sec was first introduced in France as Curaçao triple sec. 

The origin of the name has been heavily disputed since the 19th century. Some experts attribute it to the translation of ‘triple dry’ while others would claim that the name is a reference to the third evolution of French liqueur Cointreau’s recipe. 

The invention itself is even questioned. Two separate companies both claim that they created the first recipe, at different times in the 19th century! 

According to Combier, Triple Sec was created by Jean-Baptiste Combier in 1834, more than 40 years before the claim made by Cointreau, who claim who introduced the variation in 1875. 

Taste Of Triple Sec

Since we already spoke a lot about the taste, we will be brief here. The combination of bitter and sweet makes this a great combination for drinks such as sangria, margaritas, Long Island iced tea, and Cosmos.

However, lower quality Triple Sec variations are often the ones used in mixers, although some of the higher-end variations can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. 

What Is Grand Marnier?

Alternatively, there is Grand Marnier. You could jump to conclusions here and assume that this is just another version of Triple Sec, well, you would not be entirely wrong. However, this is a cognac-based orange liqueur. It is a branded premium orange liqueur.

However, there are not many out there anyway. 

It has a gorgeous deep amber color, and the cognac dominates the fragrance, but it still retains a hint of orange anyway. It does not have a smell quite as fresh as Triple Sec, thanks to the heaviness of the cognac. 

This drink is also deceptive, as the orange flavor is not as strong as it smells. It is delicious and smooth, but not as sweet as Triple Sec, but it is more balanced. 

It has a slightly drier finish to it, and it is thinner in the mouth. This is an excellent option to have on the rocks or neat, more so than Triple Sec anyway. 

The color of this particular liqueur also makes it a great option for layered shots, too! 

Origins Of Grand Marnier 

The origins of Grand Marnier are not quite as hotly debated as those of Triple Sec. Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge was created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle. It gets its name from the red ribbon around the bottle. 

The distinctive look of the bottle, and the unique taste, made this drink very popular with royal families across the European continent. This includes King Edward II of England and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. 

However, the popularity of this spirit was not only reserved for royalty, and nobility in Europe. Grand Marnier became popular with much of the European populace and those abroad too. It still retains its position as one of the most popular brands of Triple Sec to this day. 

Taste Of Grand Marnier

Due to the presence of the cognac, Grand Marnier is often seen as being heavier and sweeter than a majority of other Triple Secs. It is described as having a sweet orange oil flavor to it, with added hints of vanilla and almost oaky tones. 

This is a beverage that offers consumers a rather complex and robust taste in their drink.

Due to the heaviness, Grand Marnier is not ideal for light cocktails, such as cosmos, it might be overpowering or even change the drink. However, it can still be enjoyed in other drinks, or on its own. 

We certainly suggest trying a Grand Marnier on the rocks! 

Grand Marnier vs Triple Sec – What’s The Difference? 

This bodes to the ultimate question, of what is the real difference between these two drinks, and if you are making a cocktail, how do you decide which to add in? 

Well, if you tasted these two beverages side by side, they are not dissimilar in their taste. With much in common, being alcoholic, with an orange taste, it can be curious as to why one recipe may require Triple Sec, and another would require Grand Marnier.

Is it because of the Cognac in the Grand Marnier? 

In some cases, yes. However, there is also much to be said for the color too. Triple Sec is light in color, whereas Grand Marnier is dark. This means that when adding these to cocktails, each should be paired with cocktails using the same base.

An example of this would be the suitability of using Triple Sec in a Margarita. 

We also cannot deny that Grand Marnier is just better on their rocks or on its own. It has more to offer this way than Triple Sec does. 

Although, this does not strictly mean that you cannot try to put Grand Marnier in a drink that asks for Triple Sec. It may not taste the same, but how will you know if you prefer it one way unless you try.

Final Thoughts

The biggest differences between Triple Sec and Grand Marnier are in the cognac taste in the Grand Marnier and the color differences between the two. While there are subtle flavor differences too, thanks to particular ingredients, there is no massive difference.

They are still both orange liqueurs. 

We say, try them both, and decide for yourself. You might even end up finding you can improve your already favorite drinks! Check out our list of our favorite cocktails that use Grand Marnier next!