Lots of people know how to make a margarita or cosmopolitan, but why not take it a step further and learn how to make triple sec, a key ingredient of both? Cointreau and Grand Marnier, two brands of triple sec orange liqueur, are widely regarded as the best, but being on the pricey side makes them difficult to replenish in your home bar too frequently. Triple sec is quite a common ingredient in many cocktails, so making it at home can be a good thing.


Triple Sec Orange Liqueur Shot - How to Make Triple Sec Orange LiqueurCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lemezza/7432822430/

What is Triple Sec?

Triple sec is a sweet orange flavored liqueur that is normally either brandy-based and darker orange in color, or vodka-based and light orange in color. The alcohol content is somewhere between 15% and 40%, depending on the brand. Grand Marnier is a top-shelf brand with a brandy base, while Cointreau is top rated among vodka-based ones. Blue Curacao is another type of Triple sec that is blue colored and slightly sweeter than the others. The orange flavor usually comes from a mix of dried bitter orange peel of the Curacao orange from the Caribbean and sweet orange peel.

Triple sec is used as an ingredient in many cocktails, making it a must have in any bar. Most bartenders use a generic variety and the quality can vary greatly, however, the top-shelf ones are good enough to be had on their own as aperitifs or digestifs. Because of its sweet nature, it is also used to flavor desserts and cakes.


Why Would You Make Your Own?

Granted, you can easily get a triple sec almost anywhere, but there are a few reasons to try making your own.

  • The quality of a commercial orange liqueur can vary greatly and many of the cheaper ones can be cloyingly sweet or too harsh. This can in turn result in a not so great cocktail. You could buy a better and more expensive one, but then you may feel the need to use it sparingly. Homemade triple sec won’t taste as refined as commercial top-shelf ones, but it is a LOT better that generic brands.
  • Triple sec can be brandy-based or vodka-based. The former goes better with cocktails made of aged spirits, while the latter is better for cocktails made with neutral clear spirits. If you want the ability to make a variety of cocktails that have an orange liqueur mixed in, you’ll need to stock your bar with two of them and use the one that goes best with the drink that you’re making at the time. This can again be quite expensive if you want both to be of good quality. Instead, if you make your liqueur at home, you can make two separate bases – one from brandy and one from vodka. Both can be made easily at the same time because the rest of the ingredients are the same. Or, if you’re ok with finding a happy medium, you can make one base with a mix of the two alcohols to use in all your orange flavored cocktails.
  • Because of the sugar and alcohol content, even homemade triple sec lasts a long time without refrigeration. So, even though it is really easy to make, the super lazy among us can do one large batch to last for a very long time!
  • The orange flavor lends itself to a few added flavor variations. If you like a more citrus kick for summer, you can add a little bit of lemon juice. Adding a few spice notes like cloves and cinnamon is great for the winter months. This is a great flavor profile for the holiday season.
  • Gifts with a personal touch are always appreciated, and homemade triple sec is no different. For the holiday season, make up a large batch to pour into several clean glass liqueur bottles and add an orange flavored cocktail recipe tag to each. 


Now that I’ve got your attention, here’s my easy recipe for about 4 cups of a very good triple sec. In this one, I’ve split the alcohol to use 50% vodka and 50% brandy, but if you’d rather have a pure base of either one, feel free to pick just one. Using a mix of both makes a more versatile liqueur, as I mentioned above.

You’ll need a sealable container to steep the orange peels in the alcohol, a saucepan to make the sugar syrup and sterilized storage containers for the finished liqueur.


Triple Sec Recipe

Steeping Orange Peel - How to Make Triple Sec Orange LiqueurCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30991136@N04/3679979293/

Triple Sec Ingredients

  • 1 cup of vodka
  • 1 cup of brandy
  • ¼ cup of orange zest (3-4 naval oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon of dried orange peels, preferably the bitter kind
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon (optional)
  • 4 cloves (optional)
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 ½ cups of water 


  1. In your sealable container, throw in the orange zest, dried orange peels and alcohol, close and shake well and let the container sit somewhere cool and dark for about 20 days.
  2. Add in the spices (if using) on the last day and seal again.
  3. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil and lower the heat to let it simmer. Make sure all the sugar dissolves, then take it off the heat and let it cool completely.
  4. To remove all solids, strain the steeped orange mixture through fine mesh and then a coffee filter, and into your liqueur bottles or jars.  
  5. Pour the sugar syrup into the bottle to combine. Shake well and let the concoction rest for at least a day.

 Note: You don’t have to use expensive brandy or vodka to get a good liqueur. The flavor of the other ingredients will infuse the drink and you won’t notice the harsher alcohol.


What Is the Shelf Life of Triple Sec and How Do You Store It?

Once the drink is ready, it will keep for up to a year at room temperature. The flavors are at their best in the first three months, after which they become a little mellow. Shake it thoroughly before you pour.

You can use any sealable glass bottle that is clean, sterilized and dry. I find flip top bottles to be best, as they can be reused quite a few times, but really any glass bottles with stoppers are fine. For mass gifting, it’s best to buy a pack of them.


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Desserts and Drinks to Make With Triple Sec

Once you see the number of ways you can use triple sec, you’ll be sure to put your homemade brew to good use. In terms of cocktails, almost anything that requires a sour will have triple sec as an ingredient. Cosmopolitans, sidecars, margaritas, sangrias, B-52s and more can be made with it.

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For desserts, the very French Crepe Suzette uses triple sec in its sauce. You can drizzle some over chocolate mousse or cheesecake. For the holidays, drizzle some over fruit cake or mix with hot chocolate or apple cider.

Once you know how to make triple sec orange liqueur, the possibilities are endless and you may find yourself making more very soon! In fact, you can expand your bar by learning how to make Bailey's Irish Cream!


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