Entertaining Rule No. 8: Stock Your Bar with Orange Liqueur

New rules for guests and hosts.
Sept. 11 2013 8:00 AM

Rule No. 8: Stock Your Bar with Orange Liqueur

toast!

Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images

In the beginning, when still you were apprenticing at entertaining, you showed that your apartment parties were a cut above the standard fridge-packed-with-canned-beer affair by purchasing vodka (to supplement the centerpiece of your occasion, a fridge filled with canned beer). Maybe it was a round-shouldered bottle of Absolut, maybe it was a plastic tank of Popov, but probably the liquor you put out was vodka, a little something for the ladies and non-beer-swilling fellas to mix with juice and soda. Maybe also there was a comfortably priced bottle of whiskey or some other sipping liquor for your guests to slam, like a liquid blunt instrument.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Advertisement

In the fullness of time, your tastes developed, as did (one hopes) your solvency, and those standard beer bashes evolved. You started setting up a basic bar, or at least started setting out an array of liquor bottles, none of them made from polyethylene terephthalate. You perhaps followed the standard advice on assembling a home bar with brandy, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, and vodka, or you developed your liquor cabinet by concentrating on one drink or spirit that floated your boat and expanding from there. Like a bonafide grown-up, you bought and refrigerated some vermouth. You’ve come a long way, ladies and laddies.

Now what? Beyond the basics, what one bottle will elevate your occasion to a full-fledged—or, OK, like, at least three-quarters-fledged—cocktail party? Which one liqueur will serve you best? What’ll it be, bub?

Orange liqueur is the red-letter bottle.

Speaking of orange liqueur, we are speaking of such sweet concoctions as triple sec and curaçao, but we are not talking about the budget-level triple secs at the bottom of the back of the dive bar. (We shall not even acknowledge blue curaçao, a fluid most famous for adding an azure idiocy to spring-break drinks and for resembling Windex in more ways than one.) No, we are speaking of a building block of such classics as the margarita, the Sidecar, and the White Lady. The basic formula for those shaken drinks—liquor + orange liqueur + lemon or lime juice—translates so that you may build a successful simple sour around any liquor in the world. Moreover, a mere few dashes will fancy up a basic stirred drink like the old-fashioned or the Manhattan. Indeed, by definition, a “fancy cocktail” is one with curaçao in it.

toast!

Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

But of the classic coterie of orange liqueurs, which is the best for the casual or occasional home mixologist? I am inclined to put in a good word for Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, which is both novel (launched last year) and venerable (based on a 19th-century recipe). It’s not expensive (savvy shoppers shouldn't have to pay the $32.99 list price), but it’s bottled so handsomely as to seem quite suave indeed, and these qualities further recommend it as a hostess gift.

To understand the nuances among your other options, consult the chart on page 305 of The Drunken Botanist. Here, author Amy Stewart reminds us that all-purpose Cointreau—popular with mixologists and ecdysiasts alike—gets its oomph from distilled sugar beets and its va-va-voom of flavor from sweet and bitter orange peel, while the more complex Combier—the world’s first triple sec—is flavored with bitter Haitian and sweet Valencia oranges. Grand Marnier, meanwhile, is based on cognac and fun with crepes. It’s so rich with vanilla and spice that some restaurants offer it as an after-dinner drink, and you may count yourself suave by offering it as a post-prandial libation. Caveat: The only person I’ve ever seen drink Grand Marnier neat is Peter O’Toole, and you do not want to be serving a drink to anybody who drinks like Peter O’Toole. Too much property damage. We’re trying to have a civilized drink here.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 4:26 PM Global Oceans Break All-Time Heat Record; World on Pace for Warmest Year Ever
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.