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Cointreau vs Grand Marnier: What’s the Difference?

Lisa Price
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by Lisa Price

Cointreau is a type of Triple Sec, and Grand Marnier is an orange liqueur that takes after the curacao tradition.

Adding a splash of orange liqueur to your cocktail provides a bright and typically sweeter sip. Orange liqueur is a sweetened alcoholic drink typically made with dried orange peels, pure alcohol, and a sweetener.

There are a few variations of orange liqueurs, including Grand Marnier and Cointreau. However, before we look at the main differences between the two, it is important to define one term: curacao.

Curacao is a product of the island of the same name. These oranges were originally brought to Curacao by Spanish settlers, and it wasn’t until someone–it is not clear who–smelled a peel of them drying in the sun that anyone thought to make a beverage out of them.

In the late 1800s, local distillers used the Curacao orange to infuse flavor into their products.

Again, the main difference between Cointreau vs Grand Marnier is that Cointreau is a Triple Sec brand with a protected recipe, and Grand Marnier is an orange liqueur that finds its roots in the curacao tradition.

Let’s look at them in finer details.

A look at Grand Marnier

Grand Marnier
Grand Marnier

Here’s a glimpse at Grand Marnier–its history, taste, and how to use it.


To better understand Grand Marnier, it’s important to know its past. Grand Marnier’s story starts way back in eighteenth-century France, where local distillery owner Jean Baptiste Lapostolle resided. When he realized he needed more training, he visited the Cognac region and learned the trade.

Then, in 1870, Lapostolle’s grand-nephew created a liqueur that blended Caribbean oranges, cognac, and sugar syrup. He called it Grand Marnier, and the rest is history.

Composition and Taste

As stated above, Grand Marnier is an orange liqueur in the curacao tradition, blossoming ever more with the taste of freshly peeled oranges. The color of Grand Marnier is orange with golden and amber tints. It tastes like bitter oranges, which are complemented by the cognac and can sometimes even include hints of hazelnut.

Typical Uses

Grand Marnier can be used in various cocktails, served both hot and cold. One classic cocktail that incorporates the use of Grand Marnier is the Red Lion Cocktail – a drink that was invented in the 1930s in London.

It is a robust drink that is balanced by the acidity of the citrus used in the recipe – which calls for one ounce of Grand Marnier.

In terms of availability, Grand Mariner can be purchased at most grocery stores. If you can’t find it, there are several grand marnier substitutes you can use as replacement.

A Look at Cointreau


And now, let’s glimpse at Cointreau to understand its history, taste, and how to use it.


As noted above, Cointreau is a Triple Sec liqueur – and we will talk about the difference between the two below. For now, let’s dive into the history of Cointreau and explore the difference between Cointreau and Grand Marnier.

The Cointreau Distillery was birthed in 1849 by a confectioner and his brother. They first found success with the cherry liqueur Guignolet, but things took off when they began blending sweet and bitter orange peels and alcohol from sugar beets. Today, thirteen million bottles are sold each year. Although the Cointreau Distillery is no longer a family-owned company, the recipe has been kept as a family secret.

Composition and Taste

Unlike Grand Marnier, Cointreau is free of color. However, this clear liquid packs a bold, sweet, and bitter orange punch. It has 40% alcohol by volume or is 80 proof.

Typical Uses

Cointreau is a versatile Triple Sec used on a basic level in many cocktails. The most well-known of these would be the margarita, sidecar, and cosmopolitan.

It is also used as an aperitif or digestif – a beverage to be consumed before or after big meals. Due to its excellent production, many consumers choose to drink Cointreau neat or over ice by itself.

Triple Sec

Now let’s discover what Triple Sec is, so we can determine the differences between Grand Marnier, Cointreau, and Triple Sec.


Triple Sec was first created in France’s Loire Valley by Jean-Baptiste Combier. He and his wife were confectioners who inserted various liqueurs into their chocolates, and eventually, the liqueurs became more popular than the candy itself.

Original Triple Sec was a blend of Haitian orange peels, Normandy sugar beets, family secrets, and alcohol. It was called Combier Liqueur d’Orange and can still be purchased in the United States under this name.

Composition and Taste

Unlike Cointreau, Triple Sec usually has an alcohol content of 20% – 25%. This liqueur also bears no color, with a few exceptions in some name brands. The taste is light in flavor, but one can discern its orangey undertone. The drink is triple distilled.

Typical Uses

Triple Sec is used liberally in many modern cocktails. Some popular drinks that involve Triple Sec include the Brandy Crusta – whose cognac base pairs well with the orange flavor of the Triple Sec.

There’s also the Long Island Iced Tea, and even some margaritas use this liqueur.

Can’t find cointreau at the grocery store? Get similar cointreau replacements.

Wrap Up

The main difference between Grand Marnier and Cointreau is that Grand Marnier is an orange liqueur based in the Curacao tradition, and Cointreau is a Triple Sec with a protected recipe.

Grand Marnier is a notable liqueur with a beautiful golden-amber color and smooth taste, making it useful in a variety of cocktails.

Cointreau is a type of Triple Sec that is generally considered on the higher end and can be purchased directly from the distiller online or in stores. It is a clear liqueur, but that does not reflect the vibrant taste.

When it comes to Cointreau vs. Grand Marnier vs. Triple Sec, there are a few differences and advantages to each one. Each of these orange-based liqueurs can be utilized in a diverse array of tasty, classic cocktails.

Pay attention to the recipe you are using and be sure not to mix up these three liqueurs–for each one comes with a bright and sometimes bitter flavor profile made specifically to add unique flavor to your cocktails.

Remember, each of these liqueurs can also be served neat or on ice. The next time you’re in the mood for a bright and flavorful drink, look no further than Grand Marnier and Cointreau!

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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