Orange liquors have long been a staple at parties and restaurants, showing up in cocktails, desserts, and even neat, without ice or water. There is a wide variety in the taste of orange liquors due to the oranges used, and variations in the alcohol base. Some utilize neutral alcohols while other distilleries include Cognac or brandies. Among the most popular and widely available are Grand Marnier, Gran Gala, Cointreau, and Patrón Citrónge.
The most famous of all orange liquors, Grand Marnier was first created by Louis Alexandre Marnier in Angers, France. He first sold his orange liquor in 1880 under the name Curaçao Marnier. The unique taste comes from bitter orange peels and Cognac aged together in oak barrels. The result is a copper-colored liquor with a subtle bitter orange taste and smooth Cognac finish.
Gran Gala is often compared to Grand Marnier because they share similar characteristics. However, Gran Gala is Italian and was first produced in 1884 by Stock Spirits of Trieste. Stock produces Gran Gala with Sicilian oranges and their own brandy. The liquor has a strong orange flavor and a smooth finish good for cocktails and a sweetness that transfers well to desserts.
Also initially distilled in Angers, France, Cointreau was first produced by Adolphe and Edouard-Jean Cointreau in 1875. Using a combination of bitter and sweet orange rinds and alcohol distilled from beets, Cointreau has an extremely strong and complex taste. The recipe has not changed since its inception and the distillery is still run by the Cointreau family. The orange liquor is required in a number of cocktail recipes including Cosmopolitans and some margaritas.
Patrón Citrónge is by far the newest orange liquor in the bunch. Patrón was not even founded until 1989 and is more well-known for its top-shelf tequila used frequently in margaritas. Patrón has a much subtler orange taste followed by a burst of bitter orange peels, and, contrary to popular belief, it is not made with tequila. Instead, sweet oranges from Jamaica and bitter peels from Haiti are combined with neutral alcohol and sugar cane to give it a much lighter color.