A Cointreau-versial History of One of the World’s Most Popular Liqueurs

Ready for a little story time? Let’s go!

In the 1800’s, everything you ever thought you needed was right down the road. The general store had flour, eggs, whatever vegetables were in season and your liquor. The spirits at the time ranged in quality so infusions and distillations with flowers and fruit were commonplace.

Then a visionary shop owner named Edouard Cointreau decided to push some limits.

Edouard ran a shop in Angers, France with his brothers. This shop was not unlike many other shops in small communities around France at the time. Motivated by the quality of liqueurs he tasted, he wanted to create something that would truly stand out.

Edouard travelled all over Europe, visiting distilleries to observe how others were creating their signature spirits and liqueurs. In his travels he could see the impact that industrialisation would have not only on production methods for his family liqueur, but also on transportation. He was well aware of the world outside his small town and his family shop and he wanted to spread the Cointreau name as far and wide as possible. To do this though, he needed a truly exceptional spirit.

Edouard spent what seemed like forever creating this product. He embraced certain well known methods of production, like using bitter oranges for flavour, but then he expanded on those ideas. He sourced four different kinds of oranges to involve in the liqueur. He also started using neutral spirits as the base for his liqueur. At the time, Cognac and other brandies were used as the base for most of the orange liqueurs on the market. This neutral base gave the oranges an opportunity to truly express themselves. It also left the final product crystal clear, not brown like comparable liqueurs.

He landed on this final recipe in 1875. It took less than 30 years before the iconic Cointreau bottle started popping up on bars and shelves all over the world.

His notes on industrial transportation paid off. He was also ahead of the times in matters concerning advertising, personal transportation and communication. He was the first person in Angers to own a car and also to have a phone line installed, so that even when he was at home, he could call the distillery to check up on things.

Edouard Cointreau spent hours, days, months developing the recipe that would bear the family name for decades to come. In this way he was like a modern bartender, adjusting recipes minutely, swapping one ingredient for another, changing ratios and volumes. However, once the perfect balance of flavours was reached, he stuck by it.

Carole Quinton, who has been the Master Distiller at Cointreau since 2016, works to keep Cointreau’s authenticity and quality in tact by continuing to follow the recipe set forth more than 140 years ago. The same 4 types of orange are used. The sugar used to sweeten the liqueur comes from sugar beets. The spirit base is neutral.

In the last 100 years, Cointreau has become a necessity for anyone hoping to make balanced and bright cocktails. Margaritas, Cosmopolitans, Sidecars, Corpse Reviver Number 2 and The White Lady all showcase Cointreau’s premium quality blend of oranges. Modern modifications on drinks like the Martinez, the Manhattan and the Martini have been incorporating Cointreau as well. Where would we all be without this ingredient? We all have Edouard Cointreau to thank.

Here is a cocktail developed by our own Josh Lindley, that showcases Cointreau’s versatility in stirred drinks by combining it with Scotch Whisky, Mezcal and a touch of Angostura Bitters. He calls it “Count Me In”. The recipe for making it yourself is below.

Count Me In
1oz Cointreau
1oz Scotch Whisky (Josh uses The Bruichladdich)
1oz Mezcal
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir with ice for 20 seconds. Strain into rocks glass over ice (a big cube if you have it). Garnish with an orange twist.

Post in collaboration with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and Cointreau. Please drink responsibly.

Josh Lindley
Co-Creator at Bartender Atlas
Josh Lindley has been bartending in Toronto since 2007. Before working for Hendrick's Gin as a Brand Ambassador he was bar manager at Campagnolo and a hired gun at Bar Isabel before working at Chantecler, Le Phenix and Eataly. He has contributed to many magazines, tv shows and newspapers with his recipes and opinions. He recently put his diploma in Radio Broadcasting from Humber College to good use through The Blackbird audio documentary. Currently pouring at Civl Liberties and teaching cocktail classes for Evelyn Chick's Love of Cocktails, he enjoys being an ambassador to Toronto and talking about horror movies, punk rock and basketball.
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