The Good Life

In high spirits

There's a reason why Cointreau has consistently topped the list of premium cocktail mixers

A bottle of Cointreau, freshly squeezed lemon juice and ice — with these basic ingredients, you have the foundations for a good party. Add vodka to the mix and you get a straight Cosmopolitan; substitute vodka with tequila and you get a classic Margarita. It works just as well with rum, whisky or even cognac. That’s the message 27-year-old Alfred Cointreau from Angers, France, is spreading as he travels across the globe as heritage manager for the orange liqueur we are all familiar with but think nothing of substituting with a synthetic-tasting triple sec from the neighbourhood grocer.

India’s bar-hopping youth may be brand-conscious, but how particular are they about the ingredients in their cocktails or their prices? Hardly, I’d say. And yet, let them compare the experience of using an ordinary triple sec and Cointreau as a mixer and they will definitely not mind paying extra for a ‘premium’ cocktail, says Rajesh Grover, former marketing manager at Remy Cointreau. He is confident about the youth’s ability to signal the difference between an ordinary and premium cocktail.

Cointreau classics

Though we’re all familiar with Cointreau’s square brown bottle, first created in the 19th century, we’re not entirely sure what we like about it. But then we’re suspicious of most liqueurs, preferring our drinks hard and masculine instead of mysterious and feminine. It’s true that Cointreau was created keeping women in mind. Nearly 165 years ago, the Cointreau family had created a distillery where they experimented with fruits in alcohol. At that time, oranges were considered an exotic fruit and were exchanged as gifts over Christmas. So the peel of the precious fruit found itself being combined with 40% alcohol to create a clear liqueur — something of a sensation at the time — and a legend was born. Today, those bittersweet oranges (a combination of their peels is used in the making) are sourced from South America, Africa and Spain and the master distiller’s job is made difficult by varying global climate changes as he prepares for the short and crisp distillation process using 96 proof alcohol and water.

Fifteen million bottles of Cointreau are sold globally in a year, mostly as mixers, though it is possible to drink it neat. And yet, none of the plagiarisers who have tried to copy the recipe and bottle have come close to decoding the drink. The answer does not lie in any secret ingredient, grins Alfred Cointreau, but in the selection of oranges, peels of which he has carried as samples from France.

Why hasn’t Cointreau experimented with other fruits? Because nothing else has worked as well. Cointreau Citrus — made using limes and lemons — was launched three years ago with disastrous results. The firm has since decided to stick with something the family has patented successfully. Sometimes, the secret of a good brand — like a good cocktail — lies in just one special ingredient. In Cointreau, they have found just that.