Manhattan Cocktail Classic: The Big Orange

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, a five-day long event, brought together mixologists and drinking enthusiasts to taste spirits and learn about liqueurs.  What better way to learn more about the art of drinking than in a seminar class devoted to alcohol?

I attended The Big Orange: Curaco and Cocktails, with David Wondrich and Steven Olson, on Tuesday May 18th at the Astor Center.  The theme of this ninety-minute seminar was to learn the history of orange liqueurs, and try to decipher the differences between curaco, triple sec, and orange liqueur.  The knowledgeable and extremely energetic instructors did not hide the ball – they assured us that defining these liqueurs was a nearly impossible task.   Therefore, our goal as students was to taste the orange liqueurs, try to notice a difference, and more importantly, to enjoy ourselves. 

There were eight glasses of orange liqueurs lined up for each student, including different kinds of Grand Marnier, Bols Curacao, and Cointreau.  The lineup resembled much more of a rainbow than expected, with white, orange, and blue liqueurs.  The flavors do not always match the color – food coloring does all of the work! 

The instructors started with a history lesson, dating as far back as the early 1800s, with the evolution of orange liqueurs.  First, as we sat in this gorgeous room with exposed brick, we smelled dry oranges.  It was time to adjust our palettes and prepare for the variety of orange flavors we were about to imbibe.  Before tasting the liqueurs, the instructors gave the advice that we try everything twice.  The flavors are shocking to the palette at first, so the second taste is the taste to remember.  Each alcohol had a bitter-to-sweet ratio of orange, with some liqueurs more bitter, like the Creole Shrub, and others more orange, like the Cointreau

After sampling all of the liqueurs, the instructors passed around two cocktails that used the orange liqueurs, which was a great way to see the flavor combinations in a much more drinkable form. As Professor Olson said, you want a “whole palette of alcohol on which to paint your flavors.”  Beautifully said, Professor Olson.  We each received a White Lady, which was a light drink mixed with Cointreau.  We also sampled a Tequila Daisy, which was basically the equivalent of a luscious margarita.

In addition to the abundance of learning, I was able to spend time at the Tasting Bar, before and after the class, which included drinking a Tanqueray Southside and the Grand Smash, two beautifully composed cocktails that went down a little easier than those orange liqueurs. 

I left the Astor Center having learned that there is so much to learn about liqueur.  And not every alcohol question has an answer, but while you search for it, enjoy a cocktail!

– Kerry Hoffman