Our Seventh Featured Libation of the World comes from Fabulous France
Grand Marnier is a sophisticated libation that brings me back to childhood and many wonderful memories. Growing up in a French household, the classic bottle always stood out among my father’s bottles in his collection. My parents were well known for their dinner parties, where my mother served her traditional French fare. It was always days of work in preparation and loved by all. The dinners lasted 6 hours or more; even as a child, I adored them.
Every delicious evening was capped off with my father bringing out all his liqueurs for a digestif. By far, Grand Marnier was the favorite, and the classic elegant bottle always graced our table. As a child, my parents would allow me to dip a sugar cube into one liqueur of choice. I always chose Grand Marnier, and my love for this delectable gem grew from there.
Grand Marnier in Cuisine
The use of Grand Marnier went way beyond the closing of a lovely meal. It was used by my mom often in her cooking. Recipes that come alive with this liqueur are Crepes Suzette, Buche de Noel, Grand Marnier Souffle, Tiramisu, Duck L’Orange, bread pudding, and cranberry sauce, to name a few. It is also perfect for pouring over ice cream or coffee at the end of a meal. In my adult years, I enjoyed it neat at the end of a meal and later in various cocktails.
When I travel internationally, it is the liqueur I always buy in Duty-Free on my way home. My husband is especially a huge fan of it. The price is better than anywhere in the US, and the bottle is larger, which can be challenging to find in stores.
Let us delve into this extraordinary spirit keeping in mind I may have some bias due to its connection to my childhood memories, heritage, and native country.
Some Grand Marnier history
Grand Marnier was created in 1880 by Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle by blending premium cognac with distilled bitter orange. Grand Marnier is a cognac-based orange-flavored liqueur. The cellar master and master blender of Grand Marnier selects cognacs from five growing crus (Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois) in the Cognac region. They then blend them with a bitter orange distillate crafted from a wild orange variety called Citrus Bigaradia from Haiti. The result is a unique liqueur with bold and distinctive flavors.
Grand Marnier was a family-owned business since the 1880s. Since 1921 the Grand Marnier cellars have been located in the 17th-century Castle of Bourg-Charente, in the Cognac region of France. In March 2016, the Campari Group, an Italian spirit, and wine conglomerate purchased the business.
In addition to its flagship Cordon Rouge product, Grand Marnier also produces cognac-based orange-flavored liqueurs using rare and XO cognacs. Grand Marnier’s Grande Cuvée Collection includes Cuvée du Centenaire (blended with XO cognacs), Cuvée 1880 (blended with Grande Champagne XO Cognac), and Quintessence. Created in 2011, Quintessence blends rare cognacs, some more than 100 years old, sourced exclusively from Grande Champagne and fetched from Grand Marnier’s private cellar, Paradis. Grand Marnier also features Cordon Rouge as an ingredient in Raspberry Peach, another of its liqueur offerings.
Grand Marnier Timeline: Over 200 years of Perfection
1827 The Founding
Jean Baptiste Lapostolle, a distiller of fine fruit liqueurs, built what would become Grand Marnier’s first distillery in Neauphle-le-Château, a small city outside of Paris. It would be another 50 years before his granddaughter’s marriage would bring Grand Marnier to the family.
1876 The Alliance
In 1876, Julia, the granddaughter of Jean Baptiste Lapostolle, married Louis-Alexandre Marnier. La Maison Marnier Lapostolle commenced.
1880 Creating this Unique Blend
Louis-Alexandre Marnier had what some may call an odd idea to combine refined French cognac with a rare variety of bitter orange from Haiti in the Caribbean. It was the beginning of Grand Marnier.
1880 The Naming
The story of Grand Marnier is one of a strong friendship between two ambitious innovators, Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle and César Ritz. You might recognize Ritz from the luxury Ritz Hotels. When Louis-Alexandre created his recipe, he named it Curaçao Marnier. César Ritz came up with the name ‘Grand Marnier’. It was the beginning of a brilliant marketing future.
1892 Iconic Labeling
Louis-Alexandre immediately trademarked the iconic bottle — inspired by the silhouette of a traditional cognac still — along with the red ribbon and the wax seal. These elements became the signature of Cordon Rouge, which remains to this day and is recognized worldwide.
1880-1914 Prestigious Launch
Grand Marnier was a liqueur of its own and became a must-have at Parisian Soirées during the culturally exciting time of La Belle Époque. During these decadent times, Grand Marnier was served in prestigious locations like the Savoy Hotel and the Ritz Hotel.
1927 A Grand Century
Icons are special — they all share a magnetic power and allure. That’s why, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of La Maison, some of the finest artists created original designs of the famous bottle, inspired by the Art Nouveau style. The marketing genius continues.
1980’s The Cocktail
Grand Marnier greatly expands its trade, primarily to the United States, where the Grand Margarita became a great success in the ’80s. It was when it entered the cocktail world and it became even more popular.
2016 Campari Acquisition
Campari Group acquired the Grand Marnier brand, which, after almost 200 years, continues to represent an icon of French sophistication worldwide. The original location where the cognac and bitter orange essence was created remains in the same location to this day.
Timeline Adapted from the Grand Marnier Official Site
Some background on Cognac
Cognac is a type of brandy from a specific region of France. After the distillation and during the aging process Cognac is also called “eau de vie” or water of life. It is produced by twice-distilling grapes produced in any of the designated growing regions. The white wine used in making cognac is very dry, acidic, and thin; though it has been characterized as “undrinkable,” it is excellent for distillation and aging.
Once distillation is complete, it must be aged in oak casks for at least two years.
To be called cognac, it must meet strict requirements. It must be made only from a set list of grape varieties for it to be considered a true cru. The wine must be at least 90% Ugni blanc (known in Italy as Trebbiano), Folle blanche and Colombard, while up to 10% of the grapes used can be Folignan, Jurançon blanc, Meslier St-François (also called Blanc Ramé), Sélect, Montils, or Sémillon.
The Magical Alchemy of Grand Marnier
Louis -Alexander Marnier Lapostolle had the curious idea to create something unique and avant-garde. His brilliant concoction combined French Cognac with a rare variety of bitter Haitian oranges.
Cognac is a centuries-old liquor crafted to exacting standards by master blenders. Grapes are sourced from the finest Ugni Blanc grapes, located about 280 miles southwest of Paris. Only the best grapes for cognac are used, and they have maintained traditional methods for processing. White wine is distilled in copper pot stills, and each batch is double-distilled for 24 hours. It is then aged in Limousin and Troncaisoak oak casts to achieve the perfect complexity. This process harnesses the aromatic heart of the liquid, resulting in the “eau de vie” (water of life) that will become cognac.
Orange is the core of Grand Marnier’s unique and complex flavors. In the early days of the liqueur, oranges were an exotic luxury only for special occasions. The aromatic Haitian Citrus Bigaradia is the only variety of oranges used to make Grand Marnier. The oranges are handpicked while still green and at their fragrant peak. The orange peels are dried in the sun to enhance the flavor retention of the essential oils in their skin. The dry skins are sent to the distillery at Chateau de Bourg-Charente in France. They are then macerated in neutral alcohol, where a slow distillation occurs.
The beautiful Chateau de Bourg-Charente is a 13th-century castle atop a hill at the border of France’s Petite and Grande Champagne regions. It is where they age and blend their cognacs, along with distilling the orange essence of Grand Marnier.
The cognac and orange distillate are carefully combined in Gaillon-Aubevoye, northwest of Paris. Master blenders skillfully follow the time-honored traditions passed down through the generations. This is where the final product is poured into the iconic bottle. The bottle is shaped like a cognac still and is finished with the famous red ribbon and red wax seal. The labeling is a symbol of authenticity and exceptional quality. It brings elegance to the bottle that is distinctive.
Grand Marnier Fun Facts
- Grand Marnier contains 40% alcohol by volume.
- The country of origin is France.
- It is flammable, which is why we find it in dishes such as Crepes Suzette
- Grand Marnier is commonly consumed “neat” as a cordial or a digestif.
- It can be used as an alternative to Cointreau or triple sec, orange-flavored liqueurs made from neutral spirits.
- In 2001, Grand Marnier’s Cordon Rouge won the Gold Medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition, one of many awards and recognitions over its lifetime.
Neat and Warmed Grand Marnier?
Grand Marnier was served neat, at room temperature, and in a shot glass at my parent’s dinner parties. The pour was usually about an ounce. I wrongly assumed that was the best way to enjoy it.
It was on a flight on the now-defunct Northwest Airlines I learned otherwise. I received a free upgrade to the first-class cabin that day and requested a Grand Marnier after my meal. The flight attendant offered to warm it up for me. I had never heard of doing that and said why not. She went on to espouse the best way to drink this liqueur. I think of that conversation to this day because it is my favorite way to enjoy the digestif. The slight heating releases its heavenly bouquet and titillates your palate. Once you have it this way, it will be hard to return to the old way.
I put in an average-powered microwave for about 10-15 seconds. Some places suggested placing boiling water into a snifter, then pouring it out and adding the Grand Marnier. I don’t feel it is as good this way, and the glass gets very hot. At upscale restaurants, they usually have brandy snifter warming set-ups. It seems more work than necessary, but it is quite the show.
Where to purchase Grand Marnier?
As I mentioned, I rarely travel internationally and do not return without some Grand Marnier. I prefer to buy it in the duty-free shop on my way home. I always leave room in my carry-on luggage for it, but even if your luggage is packed tight, you can carry it in the bag they provide in the duty-free shop. The bottle size I buy overseas is one liter whereas in the U.S., in most cases, it is the smaller size.
Grand Marnier is in virtually every liquor store in the US. It is imported from France. Grand Marnier has knock-offs; I have never found one comparable or close to the same quality.
When I need to purchase at home, I will buy it at Costco or Total Wine as they tend to be better priced.
Does the glass matter?
Grand Marnier is traditionally served in a brandy snifter or a shot glass. It is by far more elegant in a snifter but not a necessity. I usually use a shot glass. If serving guests, a snifter does make an excellent presentation and an ideal way to take in the aromas, especially if heated.
If someone asks me what my favorite liqueur is, there would be no hesitation; Grand Marnier wins hands down. Maybe it is the connection to my heritage or childhood memories. I believe it is because it is deliciously elegant and smooth.
If you are hesitant to purchase a large bottle for your first try, most larger liquor stores have mini bottles available. I have no doubt you will see why it has stood the test of time and won so many awards and recognition worldwide.
Check out the Official Grand Marnier site
May we suggest a few Grand Marnier recipes for cocktails?
Photos from the Grand Marnier Offical Website
Planning a trip to France? Check out our France Travel Guide
France and Grand Marnier Photo Gallery
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To learn more about France, check out France’s Official Tourism site
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