Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Combier Triple Sec: The Original

Triple Sec. I never gave it much thought and bought what was available at the liquor store. Though it is an ingredient in a number of cocktails, including my Sangria recipe, I just didn't pay it enough attention. And I should have done so as a cocktail is often only as good as its lowest quality ingredient.

Not all Triple Sec, an orange liqueur, is created equal. I recently attended an informative luncheon at Eastern Standard where I had the chance to taste test several different Triple Secs. These included Combier, Cointreau, Patron Cintronge and Bols Triple Sec. The winner of the group was clearly Combier, the others either being too alcoholic, too sweet, too viscous like syrup, or didn't have enough orange flavor.

The luncheon was being put on my Combier but their product did impress me. It had a prominent orange flavor, only a mild sweetness, and tasted clean and light. It did not taste artifical and the alcohol was well integrated so it did not seem "hot." The proof was in the tasting.

Combier Liqueur d'Orange ($34.99), produced by La Distillerie Combier is the original Triple Sec, created in 1834. In the village of Samur, located about 300 miles southwest of Paris in the Loire Valley, Jean-Baptiste Combier and his wife ran a chocolate shop. At the time, bitter orange was a very popular flavor so they infused it into some of their chocolates. But, Jean-Baptiste eventually decided that maybe the bitter orange flavor might be preferable on its own, so he quit the chocolate business and created the first Triple Sec.

Triple Sec is so named because it undergoes a triple distillation, and the Combier company, still family owned, continues to use the original formula. They also use old copper stills, which are over one hundred years old, and were created by Gustave Eiffel, who designed the Eiffel Tower. Only natural ingredients are used, including orange peels from Haiti and sugar beets from Normandy. Though it has been around for over 160 years, it has only been imported into the U.S. within the last couple years.

There were imitators of Triple Sec within a short time of the release of the original Combier. Brothers Adolphe and Edouard-Jean Cointreau were also confectioners and lived about twenty miles from Samur. They knew Combier and his Triple Sec and eventually created their own version, trying to mimic the Combier formula. There are currently no regulations on what constitutes "Triple Sec" so anyone can refer to their orange liqueur as such. Thus, there is a wide variety of differences in the Triple Secs on the market.

Combier makes other products as well including Royal Combier ($36.99) and Rouge Cherry Liqueur ($25). The Royal is a blend of triple sec, cognac, and Elixir de Combier (which includes ingredients like aloe, nutmeg, myrrh, cardamon, cinnamon, and saffron). It has an intriguing herbal taste though is a bit more viscous than the Triple Sec. The Rouge is a blend of guigne and Morello cherries, sweet and bitter, and is also all natural. The formula for the Rouge was created back in 1632 by the Reverend Mother Gautron of the Benedictine Abbey of Samur. Though I expected this to be viscous like the Royal, it was not. Instead it had a light red color, prominent cherry smell, and a light and not overly sweet taste. I really enjoyed it and could think of plenty of uses for it in both cocktails, as well as cooking.

With lunch, we got to try three cocktails made with the Combier products.

We started with two first courses, served family style. Above is an Heirloom Tomato Salad with toasted almond relish and creamy goat cheese below the tomatoes.

The other first course was Combier Rouge Stained Foie Torchon with brioche and candied walnuts. A superb dish! Our accompanying cocktail was a Sour Cherry Sling, an alternative to the Singapore Sling, and using Combier Rouge, Oxley gin, fresh lemon, and organic cream soda. A refreshing and fruity drink with underlying herbal notes.

For my main entree, I chose the Hangar Steak Frites with herb frites and a bearnaise sauce.herb frites. The accompanying cocktail was Heather in Queue which contains The Spirit of Plymouth, Bianco Vermouth, Combier, Fernet Branca, and Lemon Oil. This was also an intriguing drink, with lots of herbal flavors and hints of citrus.

For dessert, I selected the Butterscotch Bread Pudding with praline ice cream and salted butter caramel. A rich, heavy dessert it had an excellent taste, especially as I love butterscotch, but it was heavier than I would have preferred. After all of the other food, I was unable to finish dessert, as tasty as it might be. Our final drink was the Royal Combier Fizz with Combier Royal, fresh lemon, a touch of apricot and egg white. I didn't like this drink as much as the other two, but it is more a matter of personal preference.

I was impressed with the Combier products and feel they would be beneficial to many different cocktails. I want to experiment with the Triple Sec and maybe even the Rouge in a Saké cocktail. It also has reminded me that I need to pay more attention to my cocktail ingredients, such as liqueurs, and not just buy whatever is available or inexpensive. I suggest you do the same.

As a bonus, here are the cocktail recipes for what I tasted.

Sour Cherry Sling
1 1/2 oz Oxley gin
1 oz Combier Rouge
3/4 fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
Dash of Bitter Truth Orange bitters.
Dry shake and pour over ice in a chilled highball. Top with a dash of cream soda.

Heather in Queue
1 1/2 oz Plymouth gin
3/4 oz Bianco vermouth
1/2 oz Combier L’Original
1/4 oz Fernet Branca
Stir over ice and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed lemon twist.

Fizz Royal
2 oz Royal Combier
1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz Apricot Brandy
One egg white
Shake all the ingredients, then add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled coup glass. No garnish.

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