Curaçao liqueur is a specialty liqueur - traditionally made by geist distillation of the bitter Curaçao orange. The orange is grown on the island of the same name in the Netherlands Antilles. It is the single most encountered liqueur in the history of mixology.
The formal name of the Curaçao orange is Citrus x aurantium var. Curassuviensis [that last Latin word meaning 'of Curaçao']. The Curaçao orange is a variety of the Citrus x aurantium - otherwise known as the Seville orange. The much drier climate on the island of Curaçao is the cause of the difference between the Seville orange and the Curaçao orange.
Some have asserted that the Curaçao orange is of Valencia orange (Citrus x sinensis) stock instead of Seville orange (Cirtus x aurantium) stock. However, simple scholarship and chronology disprove that.
Curaçao liqueur was not historically produced on the island. Senior Curaçao was the first Curaçao liqueur commercially produced there in the late 1940's. Curaçao liqueur was first commercially produced in the Netherlands just after 1800 by geist distillation of dried Curaçao orange peels shipped there from Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles. That produced by Amsterdam's Wynand Fockink distillery was reputed by many to the best. The bulk of high-quality Curaçao liqueur bottlings, however, have been produced in France.
There is a real distinction between Curaçao liqueur and orange-flavored brandy liqueur. Orange-flavored brandy liqueur, such as Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge and Ferrand's poorly-named 'Dry Curaçao', are usually made by blending Curaçao geist spirit with brandywine and then sweetening it.
It is important to understand the the following French terms as they relate to Curaçao liqueur:
- Curaçao -- In historical French texts, the word Curaçao might refer to the Netherlands Antilles island of the same name, the unique bitter orange from that island, the dried peel of that bitter orange, a liqueur made of that peel, or a liqueur made of the peel of other types of bitter orange with similar flavor.
- Curaçao Surfin -- ('refined Curaçao') is Curaçao liqueur properly distilled from bitter orange peel macerated in a spirit (rather than just compounded with it).
- Curaçao Blanc -- ('white Curaçao') describes any Curaçao liqueur that is left colorless.
- Curaçao Brun -- ('brown Curaçao') describes any Curaçao liqueur that is colored to match the brown color of the mature Curaçao bitter orange.
- Curaçao Orange -- In historical French texts, the phrase Curaçao orange might describe the unique Curaçao bitter orange, but more likely refers to any Curaçao liqueur that is colored orange by a post-distillation maceration using strips of the zest of ripe, sweet oranges (or Curaçao liqueur that is artificially colored to similar visual effect).
- Curaçao d'Hollande -- In historical French texts, the phrase Curaçao d'Hollande ('Curaçao of Holland') referred either to: Curaçao liqueur made in the Netherlands (where there would have been little reason to not use orange peel from the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao), or French Curaçao liqueur made using only authentic peel of Curaçao orange from the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao (shipped by way of the Netherlands) instead of cheaper, more-common (in France), less-reputed peel of bitter orange from Haiti or other places. The sugar content of Curaçao d'Hollande liqueur was typically 375 grams per liter, or close to it.
- Curaçao Doux -- French Curaçao doux ('sweet Curaçao') liqueur is the most flavorful and bitter Curaçao liqueur because it is made wholly of Curaçao bitter orange peel. It is also the sweetest, is traditionally containing more than 450 grams of sugar per liter.
- Curaçao Sec -- French Curaçao sec ('dry Curaçao') liqueur traditionally contains fewer than 350 grams of sugar per liter.
- Curaçao Triple-orange -- The phrase Curaçao triple-orange ('triple-orange Curaçao') on a bottle of liqueur from France indicates that, in addition to Curaçao bitter orange peel, that of sweet oranges is used as a second orange ingredient, along with the third orange ingredient -- hydrosol of orange peel. This may have first been done to cut costs. The mixture of the various types of orange zest and peel creates a less-bitter distillate with less Curaçao flavor. "Curaçao Marnier" was a triple-orange Curacao liqueur before Cognac brandy was added creating the product "Grand Marnier" (consequently an orange-flavored brandy liqueur -- like the recent product by Ferrand called, humorously, "Dry Curaçao"). Curaçao Marnier is now erroneously labeled "Grand Marnier Triple Sec". Before that it was "Grand Marnier Cordon Jaune". Never mind all of that. Marnier with the yellow cord is still essentially that nineteenth-century classic bottling known then as Curaçao Marnier.
- Curaçao Triple Sec -- French Curaçao triple sec ('dry, triple[-orange] Curaçao') liqueur is Curaçao liqueur that is both triple-orange and sec. To mitigate the triple-orange-associated loss in flavor, Curaçao triple sec liqueur is traditionally further aromatized with hydrosol of orange peel. Curaçao triple sec liqueur traditionally contains fewer than 350 grams of sugar per liter. An earlier version of Cointreau's famous product was Curacao triple sec liqueur. That was before it followed Cusenier into extra-dry territory.
- Curaçao Extra-sec -- French Curaçao extra-sec ('extra-dry Curaçao') liqueur is made like Curaçao triple sec liqueur, except that the orange blend contains even less of the more bitter varieties to allow for even less sweetening. Because this results in even less flavor, Curaçao extra-sec liqueur is traditionally even more aromatized with hydrosol of orange peel than Curaçao triple sec liqueur (see the description in the Cusenier promotional booklet from 1935 below). Curaçao extra-sec liqueur traditionally contains fewer than 250 grams of sugar per liter.