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Home Bar Orphans: Vol. 1 - Grand Marnier

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By James Geneau

1989 Magazine Ad for Cordon Rouge

Everyone has the same bottles in their liquor cabinet.  The orphan liquors nobody knows what to do with.  They are either ones we received as gifts from visiting house guests, picked up at Duty-Free on the way home from the Caribbean, or ones that simply appeared so long ago you cannot remember where they came from if your life depended on it.   Sure, we all know how to use Gin, Vodka, Rye, and to some degree Sherry.  But what about those other great spirits we end up bringing in from the cold?  Frustrated by the ever-growing collection of bottles in my personal liquor cabinet, I have decided to go out on a mission to find uses for the bottles collecting dust in my cabinet.  This is Home Bar Orphans – The Series…

Volume 1 - Grand Marnier

The inspiration for this pick was from a lay-over in the Newark Airport a few months ago.  On the display table in the entrance of the duty-free shop was a great selection of Grand Marnier.  Unfortunately, I already had some at home and never opened it.  Why was this?  What kept me from opening this beautiful looking bottle?  Well, probably a lack of knowledge of the product and options for use.  Being at Gremolata, we have access to lots of great experts in the world of drink.  And so, I started doing some research.

First off, the history of the brand.  It all started back in 1827 with the founding of a distillery in Neauphle-le-Château, France by Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle.  Here, he began perfecting his art for “eau de vie”, the French term for a clear, colorless fruit brandy that is produced by means of fermentation and double distillation.  By 1870, Eugène Lapostolle, Jean-Baptiste’s son, had travelled to the Cognac region from where he brought back a substantial stock of very old eaux-de-vie to compare and perfect the work being done by the family.  In 1880, Eugène’s son-in-law Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle would take the supply of family cognac and blend it with a very rare orange for the time, the Citrus bigaradia.  This would prove to be an immensely popular decision and the House of Marnier-Lapostolle was born.

Since its creation, Grand Marnier has been embraced the world over.  One of the first patrons of the brand was César Ritz, an influential hotelier and friend to Louis-Alexandre. César Ritz supported him by introducing the liqueur at the Savoy in London where it was met with immediate and immense success.  Another famous patron was Austrian emperor Franz Joseph who ordered several cases of the liqueur to serve at his lavish receptions.  But probably the most famous use of Grand Marnier was by French Chef Escoffier. Grand Marnier was incorporated into a crêpe for the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.  The dish was named Suzette after one of the Prince’s French friends and quickly became one of the great classics of French gastronomy.  And so, Grand Marnier became a classic spirit of French drink and cooking, but what about the various vintages of Grand Marnier on the market today? 

First off, is the more globally recognized Cordon Rouge.  This liqueur was created in 1880 by Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle and was the original combination of bitter orange with the house’s supply of cognac. This vintage is slowly aged in oak casks.  As a result, the liqueur acquires a unique roundness and complexity in flavour offering multiple layers of orange bitters and deep-rooted cognac notes.  This is the flagship brand of Grand Marnier and pretty much guaranteed to be in your liquor cabinet.

Next, is the Cuvée du Centenaire.  This special cuvee was created in 1927 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the House of Marnier-Lapostolle. This vintage balances the essence of tropical Citrus bigaradia oranges combined with a special recipe of very old cognacs.  The cognac is made with grapes from Petite and Grande Champagne, two of the major wine producing regions in Cognac.  It is then aged for a minimum of two years in oak casks.  Again, this process creates a velvety and well-rounded spirit full of flavour and depth.  This one is certainly a sipper on its own with a little ice.

Cuvée du Cent Cinquantenaire is another celebration release, created in 1977 for the 150th anniversary of the House.  This release is a blend of bitter orange essence and, like the previous release, rare cognacs from Grande Champagne. This release, however, is aged for an extra year.  The extra year of ageing really helps to bring out even more complexity and layering.  This release is a bit more intense and offers a stronger feeling of “little fingers” as it warms your throat.  This is another great sipper on ice or perhaps used to compliment some champagne a la Kir Royale fashion.

The final major release was created in honour of Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle himself.  According to the House of Marnier-Lapostolle, Louis-Alexandre “pays homage to his creative vision, his dynamism and his open-mindedness.”  Similar to the other blends, this release honours the patron by adding an extra drop of cognac, something Louis-Alexandre was known for doing himself. This cuvee is more intense than the others as a result and you will notice it is dryer on the mouth.

Besides these classic releases, the House of Marnier-Lapostolle has also released several flavoured brandies, wines and specialty cognacs in recent years.  One of their newest creations is Grand Marnier Navan, a blend of cognac and natural vanilla from Madagascar. This is a far sweeter version of the classic and in my opinion, is like a glass of buttery French Vanilla ice cream.  This aromatic liqueur takes its name from the town of Navana, in the north of Madagascar, where the vanilla used to produce it comes from.  Immediately, one of the first things you will think of is “do I have any more French Vanilla Godiva Ice Cream left – because this would be so awesome with it!”

So, now that you have a bit of a backgrounder on the brand, the vintages, and history – what does one do with that bottle of Cordon Rouge collecting dust in the bar?  Drink it of course!  Getting into Grand Marnier is easier than you think.  I for one simply looked at it is a cooking spirit before I started doing my research and asked a few favours from our favourite mixologists.  It turns out that you can use it for more than just a splash of orange in a Cosmopolitan, in Crepes Suzette, or on ice.  Looking for a great drink for your next soiree?  We asked Vancouver’s bad-boy of bartending, Jay Jones from Voya Lounge at the Loden Hotel to give us his recipe for his famous Red Ribbon, a new classic using Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge.

Many Bartenders consider the Sazerac to be the most influential and significant recipe in cocktail history; if well made, it is the truest expression of its kind. The Red Ribbon is a direct descendant of the Sazerac, borrowing from the purest foundation of intensity, complexity and balance.  This cocktail is all about the Grand Marnier, full of Cognac’s depth and the bold, spicy sweetness of intense orange. A large dose of Peychaud’s bitters lends further structure and complexity. Absinthe mildly but distinctly washes the glass and builds on the aromatic with minty herbs. The final touch is a gentle flame of orange oils, fresh from the rind. The result is a wildly fragrant drink, with seductive texture and deep, embracing flavours.

Jay Jones’s Voya Lounge Red Ribbon:

In a Single Rocks Glass:

2 oz Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge

3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

¼ oz Okanagan Spirits Taboo Absinthe

Flamed Orange Zest


Chill a single rocks glass with ice and water

In a mixing glass, combine Grand Marnier and Peychaud’s bitters

Add ice and stir gently for 2-3 minutes

Empty chilled rocks glass, add Absinthe

Swirl Absinthe in the glass so it covers the entire inside of the glass

Dump out Absinthe and strain the chilled Grand Marnier and bitters into it

Create a large cheek of fresh orange peel, trim out the pith

Light the zest and squeeze it across the surface of the drink, creating a small flame

Rub the oily peel around the rim of the glass and drop into the drink

And there you have it, a great way to get some use out of your dusty bottle of Grand Marnier.  Don’t be afraid, use it this weekend.  Hasn’t it suffered enough sitting there patiently waiting for you to adopt it into your regular drinking schedule?  I know I have a new appreciation for it.

Tune in soon for another edition.  Until then, grab your matches and some oranges baby, its Red Ribbon time!


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