When comparing what are arguably the most famous orange liqueurs, Cointreau and Grand Marnier, it can be confusing to figure out which one to use in a recipe. So let’s go over the differences and talk about cocktails, shall we?

amber coloured bottle of Coinreau for popular cocktails

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In short, Cointreau is a triple sec orange liqueur made with sugar beet alcohol (a neutral alcohol), sweet oranges, and bitter oranges. And then there’s Grand Marnier, a curaçao style of triple sec orange liqueur that includes a blend of cognac and bitter orange peels. It’s also a barrel-aged spirit whereas Cointreau is unaged. 

Both are made with bitter orange as the key ingredient, but they are different styles of orange-flavored liqueur married with other herbs and ingredients that give each their own flavor profile, and they are therefore used in different ways in a variety of delicious cocktails.

Bottle of Cointreau for the perfect cocktail with a cocktail cup

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In my opinion, Cointreau is more versatile in cocktails. It works well with lighter spirits like light rums, gin, tequila, and vodka. Grand Marnier is much heavier, which can throw off a lighter style cocktail like a Corpse Reviver #2 or Cosmopolitan and weigh down the base spirit.

Both are French liqueurs that bring a light orange flavor with the same alcohol content of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume), but Cointreau is definitely lighter and easier to use. (Again, just my opinion! Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments!)

This is also why you’ll also probably use Cointreau as the sweetener in a Margarita, whereas Grand Marnier is often added as a shot on the side for an extra layer of flavor.

head bartender making a cocktail with luxardo maraschino liqueur and Cointreau

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And in fact, if you look back at the old cocktail books starting from the late 1800s, you’re far more likely to see Cointreau than Grand Marnier listed as an ingredient.

If you do need to substitute Cointreau for Grand Marnier, however, consider using slightly more Cointreau (not a lot – maybe an additional ⅛ oz per oz). This will add the weight and sweetness that your recipe would otherwise be getting from the Grand Marnier.

In reverse, use slightly less Grand Marnier when substituting for Cointreau, as this will similarly adjust for weight and sweetness.

Cosmopolitan cocktail with cranberry juice in a coupe cocktail glass by nikita tikhomirov via unsplash

Photo by Nikita-Tikhomirov via www.unsplash.com


Given that Cointreau is seen more often in cocktail ingredient lists, we’ve put together a compilation of a few classic cocktails you’re sure to love. After you’ve made these, definitely let us know in the comments what your favorite Cointreau (or triple sec) cocktail is!


Below are some of our favorite drinks traditionally made with Cointreau (or a generic triple sec, if you don’t have Cointreau on hand). Grab your cocktail shaker, and click on the links below for some of our favorite cocktail recipes using Cointreau.

Classic Margarita Recipe in rocks glass with 1 ounce fresh lime, 1 ounce orange liqueur, ice cubes, and wedge of lime

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About Melanie Tornroth

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.