In the Spirit: Orange You Glad It's Cinco de Mayo?

by Kristen Siebecker

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 4, 2018

May 5 is a day that technically celebrates the Mexico's 1862 win against France at the Battle of Puebla, but it also represents - especially in the U.S. - a day where everyone pretends to be Mexican and consumes copious amounts of margaritas. The fact that most Americans confuse Cinco de Mayo with the Mexican Independence Day (September 16) echoes the perplexing ancestry of the margarita.

One story tells the tale of a Dallas socialite named Margaret who was allergic to all hard liquors except tequila. The etymology has also been referenced as homage to Margarita Cansino, better known as Rita Hayworth. Regardless, the margarita has got some street cred, and you can find the first frozen margarita machine dating back to 1971 in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

The margarita's basic ingredients are tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur (often triple sec). If you want to perfect your own recipe, consider looking into quality ingredients that elevate this classic cocktail. There are many different styles (and quality levels) of tequilas and some even use mezcal. Fresh lime juice is a must - no sour mix! The final, key ingredient is orange liqueur, which is strong and clear in color and adds sweetness and a little bit of spice.

The origins of orange liqueur can be traced back to the Dutch, who were famous for bringing back persevered herbs, fruits and spices from all over the world to use in distilling. One special ingredient they brought back was the oranges from the southern Caribbean island of Curaçao. These bitter oranges were used as a flavoring element in the heavy, sweet style, brandy-based pot-distilled liqueur. Centuries later, a less sweet style of the Dutch version was developed in the Loire region of France and called it triple sec (sec meaning "dry"). You can use any basic triple sec for your margarita, but if you want to elevate it, try using some first-class orange liqueurs.

EDGE offers our premium picks from around the world for something beyond the basic orange liqueur to use in your margarita:

Combier L'Original Liqueur D'Orange
Combier L'Original Liqueur D'Orange has been producing in Samur in the Loire Valley of France since 1834 and is distilled from sugar beets from Normandy along with bitter, dried orange peels from Haiti and sweet Valencia oranges. There is also a secret concoction of ingredients directly from the Loire Valley. It is triple-distilled in the same copper still been used since Jean-Baptiste Combier created it. The flavor is not overly sweet and offers a gentle spice to the finish.

Combier L'Original Liqueur D'Orange
$31, 750ml bottle

The Genuine Curaçao Liqueur
The Genuine Curaçao Liqueur comes from the actual island of Curaçao. The Spanish brought the Valencia orange when they discovered this island, but under the heat and dry air the usually sweet juicy oranges were reduced to a bitter fruit. However, the orange peels revealed wonderful oils and fragrance. The oranges are locally called "Lahara" and used for the production of orange Curaçao. If you happen to be visiting the island you can arrange for a free factory visit at Landhuis Chobolobo.

The Genuine Curaçao Liqueur
$29, 750ml bottle

Gran Gala
Gran Gala is Italy's version of orange liqueur and proclaims itself the "World's most sensuous Liqueur." Dating back to 1884, the liqueur is distilled with VSOP Italian Brandy and oranges. This is a richer style and more amber in color. Not only terrific in a margarita and other cocktails, it can also be used in a variety of desserts such as cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake and cookies. Recipes are available on Gran Gala's website.

Gran Gala
$19, 750ml bottle

JDK & Sons O3 Premium Orange Liqueur
DyKuper has long been known to anyone who's worked behind a bar for its huge portfolio of budget-friendly spirits and mixers (Pucker, anyone?). Founded by Dutchman Petrus DyKuper, who brought the cordial market to the U.S. in 1933, the familiar brand has recently started getting into premium spirits. JDK & Sons O3 Premium Orange Liqueur is made from Brazilian Pera oranges, which delivers a robust flavor that will add a little Brazilian flair to your margarita.

JDK and sons O3 Premium Orange Liqueur
$20, 750ml bottle

Kristen Siebecker is a Certifed Sommelier and lover of cocktails. She is the co-host of I Feel Vine, a weekly podcast about the power of positive drinking. She also hosts recreational wine classes under the title, Popping Your Cork. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at @WineWithKristen.