We believe that the Dutch trading companies made orange liqueur popular in the 17th century. They found fruits and herbs all over the world during their voyages, and used some to make etheric oils. But one was special: the Laraha orange, which was only found on the Caribbean island of Curaçao (Dutch Antilles). They gave the orange a Latin name that includes the Latin name for Curaçao: “Citrus Aurantium Currassuviensis”. They decided to make orange liqueur with the extract and the Curaçao liqueur was born. Bols claims they used the Laraha at that time, or at least, an extract based on the Laraha. It is unknown if they also invented the name Curaçao liqueur but they sure helped making it popular. Bols does not use the Laraha anymore in their production process.
Cointreau (since 1875) claims to have invented the name Triple Sec, based on the 3 different types of oranges they use. However, Jean Baptiste Combier also claims to have invented the term Triple Sec (triple distilled). But we’ll leave that battle to them.
Marketing drives Curaçao to Triple Sec
When looking at the history of Cointreau labels, they first named it Triple Sec Cointreau. Some years later, they added another term to the label: Curaçao Blanc. We believe that, at that time, the term Curaçao Liqueur was so popular, that Cointreau wanted to take advantage of that success. On later Cointreau labels, they again removed the term Curaçao. Supposedly, because Cointreau wanted to distance itself from the many cheap Curaçao liqueurs on the market.
In the years after, Triple Sec became the standard in the industry which ‘dethroned’ the term Curaçao liqueur.
In 1896, Senior started producing Curaçao liqueur with the Laraha orange peel. Up until the early 21st century, Senior only communicated with Curaçao Liqueur. But as the name Triple Sec became the industry standard and a product name, we now communicate with Curaçao Triple Sec. This is mainly to make it easier for consumers to understand what the product is, the same as Cointreau did in their beginning.
So, basically, the differences in names are primarily marketing driven.
- Cointreau is an orange Liqueur, a Curaçao Liqueur and a Triple Sec. But, they do not use the Laraha so they are not a genuine Curaçao liqueur
- Senior liqueur is an orange liqueur, using the Laraha, making it a genuine Curaçao liqueur. It can be used as a Triple Sec as it serves the same purpose in a cocktail recipe
An interesting note is that a lot of the Dutch Curaçaos used to be made with brandy. Some believe that the use of brandy is the difference between a Curaçao and a Triple Sec. Although logical that they used brandy in the Netherlands, it was definitely not on the island of Curaçao. In the Caribbean, the resources for brandy were not widely available and sugar cane alcohol definitely was. The original recipe for the Senior Curaçao liqueur also states sugar cane alcohol.
Café Royal Cocktail Book
The best source we can find to support the explanation above is a cocktail book from 1937 called Café Royal Cocktail Book. In the back, they have a list of definitions:
- Curaçao: A sweet digestive liqueur made wine or grain spirit-sugar and orange peel. It was first made by the Dutch, who used as a flavoring agent the Citrus Aurantium Curassuviensis, a bitter orange first discovered in Curaçao, a Dutch West India Island. Colors, red, white, blue, green and orange
- Triple Sec: A description of white Curaçaos used for a number of brands of Curaçaos
- Orange liqueur: Made both in France and Holland, a sweet liqueur flavored with orange
- Cointreau: The trebly distilled colorless orange liqueur