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May 25, 2010 12:14 PM

WTF? No Orange Curacao in all of PA! Mai Tais Ruined? Please help!

I just spoke with someone from the PA liquor control board. No orange curacao -- in the entire state. Made my orgeat last night and the party is this Saturday, so no time to do a special order.

What can I substitute? Triple Sec? Cointreau? Clearly I'm in the worst state for buying spirits so please don't suggest something even more far flung than curacao.

Boo. I'm so bummed. :(

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  1. I have never had it with orange curacao only alternative orange liquers - gran marnier ,cointreau and rhum clement creole shrubb. I would get a small bottle of those you can find and experiment.

    I think the homemade orgeat is the real game changer it gives great mouthfeel and that extra something that is unexplainable

    4 Replies
    1. re: quazi

      Here's my concern...
      My orgeat is very sweet and I'm worried something like triple sec (very sweet, more so than orange curacao) will dramatically alter the flavor. I can get blue curacao but then it's going to look like a swamp.

      I've already looked up the creole shrubb. Also not available in PA.

      1. re: isadorasmama

        Is there no clear Curacao?

        What recipe are you using for the Mai Tai? If you are worried about sweetness, you can cut out the simple syrup part (depending on what recipe you are using).

        The one RumDood recommends is this one (which has the extra simple syrup part that can be removed):

        1 oz Jamaican Rum
        1 oz Martinician Rhum
        .5 oz Orange Curacao
        .75 oz Lime Juice
        .5 oz Orgeat
        .25 oz Simple Syrup

        Mix all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain over crushed ice, garnish with a lime shell and a sprig of mint.

        1. re: yarm

          Only BLUE curacao in the whole state. Can you believe it? It's like goddamn prohibition in these parts.
          And get this...if I ordered it (like 2 weeks ago) I would've needed to order 6 bottles.

          I was working off a recipe posted a while ago from JK Gence the Cosmic Jester and then reposted sans simple syrup (because of very sweet orgeat) by Ali G. It's at the bottom of this thread:

          I searched around some Tiki forums and lots of people have given it a go with other assorted orange liquors with varying amounts of success -- or lack thereof.

          I'm debating on which orange would supply the most amount of fruit flavor without overwhelming the other ingredients. Also, nothing that is too fake sweet tasting.
          Does that mean triple sec is out? What about Pitron Citron? Is Cointreau too bold?

          Ack. Am I destined to make some putrid drink for my guests?

          1. re: isadorasmama

            I would say eliminate the simple syrup and if you are making the drinks one at a time I think a longer and harder shake will bring more dilution and thus a more balanced drink

    2. Zest some oranges (bitter oranges if you can get em), soak the zest in vodka, viola Curacao. Even with sweet oranges your end product will be better then most commercial Curacao anyhow...

      Heck, here's a recipe from 1893:

      I bet if you used orange zest, grapefruit zest, lemon and lime zest (all available at the local supermarket) and soaked in some vodka, you'd have a decent enough solution...

      4 Replies
        1. re: isadorasmama

          Keep in mind, you want JUST the colored zest, not the white pith of the peels which will make things bitter.

          If you are in a real hurry, which it sounds like you are, you could just throw the zest in a blender with some vodka and then run through a coffee filter, viola, instant Curacao.

          I would use:

          Zest of one or two juice oranges if you can find one, one large navel if not. (Ideally bitter orange, but the average supermarket won't have those).

          If they have tangerine add the zest of one of those too.

          Zest of 1/2 grapefruit

          Zest of 2 limes.

          Zest of one lemon

          Add one cup vodka

          Blast in a blender for a good 4 minutes till the zest is really pulverized (alternatively even a 24 hour soak in vodka will extract a decent amount of flavor). Filter through a few layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter.

          You can use this neat, or sweeten to taste.

          Heck, this sounds good, might have to make some myself ;-). I make tons of my own bitters, cocktail cherries, etc. Once you start playing with this stuff you realize how much better home made is then the store bought... Just put up 4 decent bottles of the most amazing cocktail cherries two nights ago.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            That sounds delicious.
            Wouldn't a brandy base be more appropriate? From what I gather, curacao marketed today is brandy or cognac based...


            1. re: isadorasmama

              Hmmm' hadn't realized that.

              I am sure you could go either way.

      1. If you look through the rest of the Oh Gosh! article on orange liqueurs you will see that Jay says the meaning of orange curacao as distinct from triple sec or other orange liqueurs has basically been lost. Grand Marnier is a classic curacao, and I'm sure you can find that in PA.

        So ideally you would get a chance to experiment with different ones like quazi recommended. That said, Cointreau and Grand Marnier are two standbys for orange liqueur that should work here. Clement Creole Shrubb is another common choice for Mai Tais if your store happens to have it. Luxardo Triple Sec is good. Marie Brizard has a good rep and they make several different orange flavored liqueurs so maybe you can find one. Gran Gala should work, so should Patron Citronge. Even Hiram Walker Triple Sec could work in a pinch.

        So really, don't worry, you have options. Also I imagine almost anything you make at home, even with a vodka base, would rock.

        2 Replies
        1. re: nickls

          Tried my first Mai Tai with Triple Sec and truthfully, only the rum came through. Not bad, but certainly not WOW. I think this time I'll use more orgeat. Maybe it's not as sweet as I think it is.

          I bought Cointreau for the party Mai Tais because from all the research I've done (mostly on Tiki message boards), Grand Marnier provides a different taste altogether. I think it really boils down to preference because there's definitely a segment who think the GM makes a fine substitute for the curacao.

          I kid you not when I say PA stores stink. When I called the State Liquor Control Board after being completely baffled that my online search for curacao came up blank she went through all the orange liquors they have in state stores.
          No Marie Brizard and no Luxardo. No Hiram Walker (although I've heard bad things about their triple sec). And sadly, no Clement Creole Shrubb, which I've heard AMAZING things about. You can order some of the things but there's a six bottle minimum for each.

          1. re: isadorasmama

            Cointreau is perfect. I would NOT use Gran Marnier, wrong taste for a Mai Tai.

        2. I see you invoked me earlier for the recipe, so I suppose I had better weigh in on this!

          The closest alternative flavor wise will be the blue curaçao. But as has been mentioned, it will make the drink look like swamp water. That leaves us with triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and a bunch of others such as Patron Citronge. First up, Cointreau. Guess what... Cointreau IS a triple sec, and a very expensive one at that. The people at Rémy Cointreau have done enough marketing over the years to distance themselves from being just a triple sec, now considered a class all its own. It's great stuff, but I have a hard time dropping $30 on a bottle of something I'm using as a supporting player. Citronge is another example of a Triple Sec liqueur, this one made by Patrón to cut in on Cointreau's market. This is what I use at home for triple sec because it's still very good, and doesn't cost nearly as much as Cointreau. Grand Marnier is often considered a triple sec, but I give it a slightly separate category because of its base. To me, triple sec has a neutral spirits base (see Cointreau, Citronge, DeKuyper, Bols, Marie Brizard, et al.); Grand Marnier has a cognac base, and therefore will perform differently in drinks that call for triple sec. It's a substitution easily made, but it WILL change your drink. Therefore, I do not recommend using Grand Marnier in a Mai Tai. Curaçao is a sub category of triple secs. The thing that differentiates a curaçao from a triple sec is that usually the curaçao is slightly sweeter. The name-brand triple secs (Cointreau, Citronge) will be drier than the well (DeKuyper, Bols, et al.) triple secs will be drier than the well curaçaos, at least in theory. Considering that DeKuyper's triple sec and orange curaçao are both 30 proof, it wouldn't surprise me if the only difference between the two is color.

          What I recommend is to make a Mai Tai by my recipe with triple sec, and add simple syrup 1/4 ounce at a time until you find the drink well balanced. Leave all of the other amounts the same, especially the orgeat. While the orgeat adds considerable sweetness, it also adds the almond flavor that truly makes for a great Mai Tai. If you taste it and the almond sticks out, then go ahead and scale back the amount of orgeat used. The almond should be a background flavor, working to meld the other ingredients into a harmonious whole.

          And here's my recipe, the one Trader Vic did back in the 1940's and how I make them behind the bar at work. I've accidentally given the wrong amounts here and there (usually adding too much orgeat, what can I say, I like the stuff), but I double checked my notes and THIS one is canon:
          Juice of 1 large lime (approx. 1 ounce)
          1/2 ounce orange curaçao
          1/4 ounce orgeat
          1/4 ounce rock candy syrup (1 pound sugar, 1 cup water, heated until clear)
          2 ounces Appleton Estate Extra 12-year Jamaican rum
          Shake like hell with plenty of crushed ice. Pour without straining into a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a spent lime shell and a sprig of mint.

          Like I said, just switch out the curaçao for triple sec, taste for balance, add a little more rock candy syrup if you need, and you should be just fine. I'd love to hear how they turn out!
          Oh, also, if you can get your hands on some dark rhum agricole from Martinique, use half that and half Appleton Extra and you'll have a real winner on your hands. Saint James Extra Old or Hors d'Age is best.

          11 Replies
          1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

            This is brilliant. Thank you so much for chiming in and explaining in such detail the differences between the orange liqueurs.

            I have some well triple sec and yesterday just bought some Cointreau for the Mai Tais. I'm going to try both but this time go ahead and add the simple syrup. Mine isn't rock candy syrup, just regular homemade equal parts or thereabouts, but it should make the drink sweeter.
            You know, when I made the drink the other night I couldn't even taste the orgeat, even in the background. I think I need to play around with it.
            Is the drink supposed to be more tart rather than equally tart and sweet?

            I think next time I do this I'll swap out the Cointreau for dark rum agricole. If I'm going to spend $$$ it might as well be on the rum, you know!

            After this project I think I'm going to figure out what else to make with orgeat and then perhaps give the Navy Grog a whirl. ;)

            Thanks again!

            1. re: isadorasmama

              It comes out pretty well balanced between sweet and tart, maybe a little bit on the tart side. And if you *can* taste the orgeat, you used too much.

              1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                Really? You shouldn't be able to taste the orgeat at all?! So what's the point then?

                1. re: isadorasmama

                  It works the same as the harp in an orchestra, or vanilla in your favorite cookie recipe, for that matter: It helps to accent everything else without making its presence known. Without it, the drink will be missing something, but your guests would have quite the time trying to figure out just what isn't there. Try making two Mai Tais, one by the regular recipe, and one with no orgeat and 1/2 ounce of simple syrup. There will be a difference.

            2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

              Funny thing is the whole Cointreau for $30 a bottle is USA only. I picked up a bottle at a supermarket in Italy last year for $8. Personally I prefer the Luxardo product.

              1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                My new go to triple sec is Combier. They were the original triple sec, wasn't available the past few decades here in the US, but now available again as of last year. (They also make the herbal blend used by Pimm's for their offerings.) Combier isn't sweet, very dry in fact, with a great, slightly bitter, orange intensity. I think it works fabulously in mai tai's.

                1. re: JMF

                  Cool, I'll have to track it down.

                2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                  I just want to chime in to underscore my support for Patrón Citronge. Really excellent stuff, half the price of Cointreau. It is my go-to choice in anything calling for Curacao, Triple-sec, etc. Also, the main difference between "my" Mai-Tai and others is putting the spent lime shell in the shaker...I like the extra little something the essential oils in the peel give the drink.

                  1. re: jokeiii

                    Where is Citronge half the price of Cointreau, though? Here in PA, Cointreau is now up to $34.99 (!!) reg price. Citronge is on SALE right now at $25.99, reg $26.99. So $35 vs $27. Not insignificant, true, but far from half the price and man I can smell and taste the difference, both straight and mixed when I used them both for margaritas. I wish it did work for me, really, as I'd like to pay less. But it doesn't.

                    I might try some Combier next time though. It's priced in between the others.

                    1. re: CrazyOne

                      Patron's Citronge was not very impressive to me either .... For the extra $10, I prefer Cointreau.

                  2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    I've seen the recipe you've posted cited as the Trader Vic's original often, and from Jeff Berry (Beachbum Berry) no less. But it is off by just a little bit. It should be 1/2 ounce orange curaçao and 1/2 ounce orgeat.

                    2 ounces 17-year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum
                    1/2 ounce French Garnier Orgeat
                    1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curaçao
                    1/4 ounce Rock Candy Syrup
                    Juice from one fresh lime

                    (as you know the J. Wray Nephew rum is no longer available, as is the French Garnier orgeat - but the amount of rum, orgeat and orange curaçao is the same)

                    The source of this recipe goes back to some of the very early Trader Vic's Bartending Guides, and has been published by the company over the years. I can't upload those, but this is confirmed by the link below which is from the Internet Archive of Trader Vic's website in 1999:


                    Ultimately, people are going to adjust to their taste, and Trader Vic's itself adjusted it to suit their supply needs, but this is the recipe from which it all started. I recommend everyone who enjoys a good Mai Tai give this recipe a try.

                    My current favorite rum pairing for Mai Tai is 1 ounce Coruba with 1 ounce Cubaney Añejo.