A Sip Like None Other: Curaçao’s Signature Liquor
What’s in a name? When it comes to the world of alcoholic beverages, it can sometimes mean a lot. There are certain spirits and brews which are inextricably linked to the name-place from which they are begotten. Champagne is among the most well-known of these, required by law to be produced from grapes found in France’s Champagne region to be the true stuff. Sorry, California! That bubbly stuff you produced is merely sparkling white wine! Similarly, a true Kölsch beer must hail from the German city of Koln (aka Cologne). And so it is for the delicious liqueur known as Curaçao Liqueur.
The island nation’s most famous liquor is an absolutely homegrown proposition, and as such, Curaçao Liqueur may be more famous around the world as a fantastic mixer for cocktails than as a legendary tropical island! Distinguished from other similar products like Triple Sec and Grand Marnier, nothing tastes quite like it because it is sourced in a very special way with a very special fruit. Highly coveted by world-class bartenders and mixologists, many a drinker has satisfied their taste buds with this sublime elixir. Here’s a look at where it comes from and what makes it so special.
A Different Shade of Orange
While many people assume that Curaçao Liqueur is an orange liqueur, the truth is a little more complicated. Dutch settlers in the 1600s found a strange fruit grown on the island: the laraha. Thought to be a descendant of bitter orange, a citrus brought to the island by Spanish explorers in the previous century, this inedible fruit evolved into a distinct species. While unpalatable and probably not nutritious, the peels of the fruit were found to be pleasantly aromatic. Early distillers experimented with this curious harvest and discovered something astounding. First, they peeled the laraha, discarding the pulp which was simply no good to eat. Then the peel was dried. This process brought out the inner oils, the source of the aroma and flavors imbued within. Infusing vats of alcohol with the prepared peels, those oils seeped into the liquid creating the signature flavor known the world over. It’s not quite like many of its cousins which are made from more familiar varieties of Old World oranges. And that’s why the place-name must be preserved. Curaçao Liqueur can only be made from Curaçao laraha!
The Impact of the Phenomenon
It may seem strange that a sort of mutant fruit strain, independently evolving in an unassuming island far from Europe became one of the most sought-after liqueurs by the 19th century. But between the spirit’s unique taste and the long history of colonial relations, finding such a needle in the haystack for the world of fine liquors becomes more understandable. And a marketing push coming at the turn of the 20th century added the well-known blue color which is identified with the image of the drink (the color is added, not a natural byproduct of the fruit itself).
While other orange-infused liquors have remained popular, there is nothing quite like the flavor of Curaçao Liqueur. This has led to a flurry of cocktail recipes the world over featuring the island nation’s amazing contribution to alcoholic recipes. Rum drinks are favored in the nation of its origin since the local Caribbean islands are huge producers. And it doesn’t hurt that the complementary sweetness of the two liquors makes for a great pairing. There’s also the tradition of adding Curaçao Liqueur to gin and tonics, a favorite Dutch drink which has made a splash on the island.
A Last Taste
While competing companies may make competing claims as to who came up with the concoction first (records from centuries ago do not make the origins clear), there are many Curaçao Liqueur bottles to sample on the island. Tours of distilleries are easily arranged and popular for locals and tourists alike to partake in. True connoisseurs may wish to sip slowly on glasses of the good stuff served up neat. But popular cocktails are always available for sampling as well.
Some of the more popular ways to enjoy Curaçao Liqueur include the famous Blue Hawaii which incorporates pineapple and coconut flavors. Blue Margheritas add that special lick of laraha to the famous Mexican cocktail. The vodka drink is known as the Cosmopolitan also has a “blue” variety which adds some orangey twang to the popular beverage. Or you could just make it easy with a Curaçao Liqueur and tonic, leaving the gin behind for a different kind of bitter booze to snap into a striking highball glass!