Cognac and Orange Liqueur
STROKE OF GENUIS
Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle founded his humble distillery in Neauphle-le-Château just outside of Paris in 1827 with the goal of distilling fine fruit liqueurs using apricot and cherry among others. In 1870 Jean-Baptiste’s son Eugene, who was by now running the business, visited the Cognac region and was immediately impressed by what he saw and tasted. He returned to Neauphle-le-Château with cases of fine cognac. While tasting these incredible cognacs, Eugene’s assistant Louis-Alexandre Marnier came up with what was at the time a crazy idea, to blend fine cognac with orange liqueur. For any liquor tinkerer living today, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Heck, my mom and I have family competitions to see who makes the best homemade digestif every year for the holidays. However oranges were among the most exotic and luxurious of fruits in 19th century France and cognac was sacrosanct so blending something into it was nearly blasphemous. Louis-Alexandre cut through all of that. He saw something that no one else did. Oranges are exotic and luxurious and cognac is revered and delicious, so why not combine them? By 1876 Louis-Alexandre married Eugene’s daughter Julia and La Maison Marnier Lapostolle was born. In the interest of not losing anyone on this journey La Maison means The House of Marnier Lapostolle, the new name of the family business.
Nose a glass of Grand Marnier and the sweet, unmistakable aroma of intense orange grabs you instantly. Your mind pictures a beautiful Valencia orange picked at the peak of sweetness. There’s no other place for your mind to go and yet it couldn’t be farther from reality. Shockingly the orange varietal used to make Grand Marnier is actually Bigarade, more commonly known as Seville orange or bitter orange. If you’re Hispanic, it’s the sour stuff used to marinade meats, naranja agria. To go even further, they pick this sour orange while it is still green. They pick and peel these green, bitter oranges from their plantations in Haiti, then sun dry the peels before shipping them to France where they macerate the peels in neutral alcohol for 3 weeks to tease out as much flavor and aroma as possible. They also sweeten them with refined beet sugar. The now sweetened orange peel infused alcohol is then slow-distilled resulting in what they term essence de orange, an intense orange liqueur. This orange essence is so potent in flavor and aroma that the Grand Marnier Cuvée Louis-Alexandre is made up of 82% V.S.O.P. cognac and only 18% orange essence. The orange on the nose and palate is absolutely unmistakable and quite delicious.
There’s an immediate essence of candied mandarin in the forefront with dried fruit, floral, and a hint of white oak in the background. The body is quite full and balanced with a beautifully dry characteristic lurking behind the sweet, intense orange flavor. It is a wonderful after-dinner drink that can be enjoyed neat or with an ice cube to help soften up the sweet orange and lighten the body a touch.
Cigar Pairing: Illusione ULTRA
The Illusione ULTRA is a complex and flavorful smoke highlighted by notes of cedar, toast, roasted nuts, and smooth pepper. The interplay between the cedar and the roasted nuts from the cigar and the orange and dried fruit from the Grand Marnier Cuvée Louis-Alexandre is absolutely delightful. The pepper from the Illusione ULTRA manages to tame the orange just enough to allow more traditional cognac flavors to come to the forefront.