Triple sec may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to building your home bar, as it’s not typically consumed on its own. A guest might be interested in sipping on some fine whiskey or bourbon, or even a smooth vodka or tequila, but they likely won’t be nursing a triple sec on the rocks all night. However, the orange-flavored liqueur is surprisingly versatile when it comes to whipping up cocktails. The most familiar cocktail that regularly incorporates triple sec is the margarita, but the orange liqueur also makes an appearance in drinks like the cosmopolitan and Long Island iced tea (via Absolut Drinks).
For those who may not be familiar with the ingredient, triple sec is a particular style of orange liqueur (via That Cocktail). It’s been around for ages, having been invented all the way back in 1834 in France, and provides a delectable combination of citrusy orange flavor with a hint of sweetness. However, if you want to whip up a beverage and don’t happen to have a bottle of triple sec on hand, don’t worry — there are several options for substitutes that can bring some of the same flavors into the drink you’re crafting. There are even a few non-alcoholic options, perfect for those who are more interested in making a mocktail or looking to reduce some of the kick.
Get your margarita glass ready — here are 10 substitutes for triple sec.
Cointreau is perhaps the most ideal substitute for triple sec; it is actually considered a type of triple sec, as A Couple Cooks explains. Cointreau features the same orange flavor that triple sec does, and has a balance between bitter and sweet that is absolutely irresistible. Plus, a bottle of Cointreau will typically be a higher quality spirit than a generic bottle of triple sec, so this substitute might potentially elevate your cocktail.
There are just a few things to consider. First of all, the alcohol content. Cointreau has a consistent ABV of 40%, whereas triple sec can be anywhere from 15% to 40% ABV. This means you’ll want to be careful about the potency of your drink if you’re substituting Cointreau in a cocktail that calls for a triple sec with a lower ABV. Additionally, budget-conscious bartenders should be aware of Cointreau’s higher price tag. If you’re whipping up a few cocktails, it shouldn’t be an issue, but if you’re swapping Cointreau for triple sec in large batches of sangria or margaritas, the price difference can add up.
For best results, do a direct swap, using one ounce of Cointreau in a recipe that calls for one ounce of triple sec, for example — just make sure to keep an eye on that potency.
2. Grand Marnier
Another liqueur that was created over a century ago, in 1880, Grand Marnier is a fantastic substitute for triple sec in a wide variety of recipes as well as cocktails, according to The Kitchen Community. Grand Marnier’s notes of sweetness and citrus flavor help add depth and complexity to many dishes, from sides like cranberry sauce to desserts such as crepe Suzette. The versatility of this spirit means you might still have a bottle on hand from when you whipped up those decadent treats for the holiday season.
There are two main differences, though. Triple sec tends to be much sweeter, so you may either want to add a bit of extra sweetness into your cocktail after making this substitution, or perhaps if you prefer things a little less sweet, you’ll find the swap actually makes the recipe more palatable. And, while triple sec is typically clear, Grand Marnier has an amber hue that might impact the overall appearance of your drink, depending on what else goes into it.
For best results, do a direct swap — just make sure to keep an eye on your beverage’s potency, since Grand Marnier typically has a higher ABV than triple sec.
3. Orange curaçao
You may be familiar with blue curaçao, a spirit that gives any cocktail it’s included in a vibrant hue, but have you ever tried orange curaçao? The orange-flavored liqueur has many similarities with triple sec, making it a great substitute if you happen to have curaçao on hand. In fact, as A Couple Cooks explains, the original name for triple sec was actually curaçao triple sec — so they’re even more similar than you may have initially thought!
Curaçao contains a lot of the same citrus flavor notes as triple sec. However, as Distiller explains, it’s typically a bit more spice-forward, which means it pairs a bit better with dark or aged spirits like rum, brandy, or certain tequilas. This added complexity in flavor can be a bonus in some recipes, but it’s certainly something to be mindful of if you want a more neutral citrus taste.
For best results, as long as you pay attention to the ABV and find a curaçao that has roughly the same alcohol content as the triple sec in the recipe you’re making, you can do a direct swap — so, instead of using an ounce of triple sec, you’d add in an ounce of orange curaçao. If you’re really in a pinch, you can swap in blue curaçao, as it has the same flavor notes, but the appearance of your drink will obviously be vastly different thanks to that bold hue.
4. Combier Liqueur d’Orange
As you may venture to guess from the name of this particular spirit, Combier Liqueur d’Orange is another type of orange liqueur that will infuse all those tasty citrus flavor notes into your beverage, making this an ideal substitute according to Substitute Cooking. In fact, the Combier website actually refers to this spirit as "the world’s first triple sec," so you should have no issues at all crafting an incredible cocktail with this substitute.
This spirit was first crafted in France all the way back in 1834, and uses no synthetic flavoring, so you’ll get a high-quality beverage when using this substitute. Combier has a hint of sweetness, although the mixture is well-balanced, and it’s a clear liqueur, so it won’t impact the appearance of your drink.
The one potential downside of this substitute is that it may not be quite as readily available as some of the more common spirits, depending on the type of stock found at your preferred liquor store, as it only recently began popping up on shelves in the U.S. (via Drink Hacker) — however, it’s certainly not so rare that you’d have no chance of finding it. For best results, do a direct swap, using an ounce of Combier in place of an ounce of triple sec.
5. Orange extract or zest
This substitute is for all the bakers out there. While triple sec is most commonly spotted in cocktail recipes rather than in cookbooks, if you do happen to run across a margarita-inspired baked good or something of the sort, it can be tough to figure out what the best substitute would be. After all, there are certain ingredients that are incredible in their raw form, but get a little off when baked or heated. If you’re crafting a dish that calls for triple sec, such as cake or even a sauce, an ideal swap is orange extract or zest (via Leaf TV). It won’t add any alcohol to your dish, but it will infuse those same vibrant orange flavor notes found in triple sec.
The one thing you’ll want to be aware of is the potency of these ingredients. Zest and extract pack some serious flavor into a small amount, so you’ll want to tread cautiously. For best results, for every tablespoon of triple sec that your recipe calls for, add a mere teaspoon of orange extract or orange zest in order to prevent the orange flavor from completely overpowering your dish.
Its orange flavor notes are one of the reasons so many cocktails incorporate triple sec, but if you prefer your drinks on the simpler side without those fruity notes, regular brandy could work as a substitute (via The Kitchen Community). It’s an accessible spirit that can be found at just about any liquor store, and if you have a relatively well-stocked liquor cabinet, there’s a good chance you may already have a bottle of brandy kicking around. It has a wonderful depth of flavor, and as an added bonus, is very well-suited to cooking, so it’s a great choice if you want to craft an impressive flambeed dish or something of the sort.
There are just a few things to consider when using brandy as a substitute. First of all, it doesn’t have the same sweetness as triple sec, and in fact, can sometimes be a tad bitter according to Tastessence. Whether you’re creating a dessert or a cocktail, you’ll likely want to taste test and consider adding a bit of sweetener to compensate. Brandy is also a dark amber hue, rather than a clear spirit like triple sec, so it will also change the appearance of your dish.
For best results, given the variations in overall flavor, you may want to start with half the amount — so, for a recipe that requires two ounces of triple sec, add a mere ounce of Brandy and then adjust according to taste.
Triple sec has a unique flavor profile that contains a bit of tartness, thanks to the orange notes, as well as a punch of sweetness. This combination is mimicked very well by grenadine, the colorful ingredient you may recognize from cocktailing including the tequila sunrise. Grenadine can be a great substitute for triple sec when crafting a non-alcoholic, or less alcoholic, beverage (via The Kitchen Community).
There are just two things to note with this substitution. First, while grenadine does have the same tart and sweet combination that many orange liqueurs do, it doesn’t actually have those same orange flavor notes, infusing a hint of pomegranate flavor instead. Second, grenadine has a vibrant red hue, and as you may have deduced from seeing it added to cocktails, even a mere splash can dye your drink. This may not matter to some, but if the overall color of your drink is important, you’ll want to be aware of grenadine’s bright red tone.
Assuming you’re not worried about matching the alcohol content, given grenadine’s hue and slightly different flavor profile, you may want to start out with about half the amount recommended for triple sec and then adjust according to taste. So, if your cocktail calls for two ounces of triple sec, add an ounce of grenadine to start and then make any adjustments.
8. St. Germain
St. Germain is an elderflower liqueur, not an orange one, so there are some differences in the flavor profile with this substitution. However, St. Germain is an absolute staple of bartenders everywhere, often cheekily referred to as "bartender’s ketchup" or "bartender’s Band-Aid" because of just how easily it can elevate any cocktail (via Los Angeles Magazine). You won’t get the orange flavors that you’d find in triple sec, but St. Germain’s delicate, slightly floral notes will likely make a lovely addition to your cocktail.
Given how versatile it is, St. Germain can be an ideal substitute for recipes where you’re not quite sure what substitute would best fit, as it pairs well with so many different flavors. If those citrus notes are quite important to the recipe, however, you may need to supplement by also adding a squeeze of fresh orange, lemon, or lime to make your recipe truly shine. For best results, you can do a direct swap, using an ounce of St. Germain in place of an ounce of triple sec. Since St. Germain has an ABV of 20%, according to The Spruce Eats, it’ll craft a cocktail that’s roughly the same strength as one made with triple sec.
9. Orange juice
If you’re looking to mix up a batch of mocktails, a simple swap for triple sec is an ingredient you likely have in your fridge, or can easily find at just about any grocery store — orange juice. Obviously, orange juice doesn’t quite have the same complexity and depth of flavor that many orange-flavored liqueurs do, but it will infuse your beverage with those citrus flavor notes and can make an ideal substitute for non-alcoholic, or less alcoholic, cocktails, as The Kitchen Community explains.
Orange juice has some tang, but it’s also very sweet, so for the purposes of this substitution you may want to look for orange juice options that are unsweetened or contain less sugar if you’re buying packaged juice. Fresh-squeezed is always best to get that true orange flavor. For best results, since juice doesn’t have quite as potent a flavor as liqueur, you should add a splash more orange juice than the recommended amount of triple sec — so, if your recipe calls for an ounce of triple sec, add anywhere from 1.5 to two ounces of orange juice as your substitute.
10. Maraschino liqueur
At first thought, you may not think of swapping something with a citrus flavor profile for a maraschino concoction. While oranges and cherries are certainly wildly different when consuming the actual fruits, in a drink, maraschino is actually a pretty decent substitute for triple sec, as Thrillist explains. This italian cherry liqueur has some of the fruity notes that add sweetness and brightness to a beverage, and cherries straddle that line between sweet and sour in the same way that many citrus fruits do.
If you prefer your drinks a little less sweet, this substitute is ideal because maraschino liqueur has a smooth strong flavor with a hint of sweetness, but isn’t quite as sweet as triple sec. As an added bonus, this liqueur isn’t as potent as some other spirits, and is quite in line with triple sec from an alcohol content standpoint. As Liquor explains, most maraschino liqueurs range from about 24% to 32% ABV, which is right in the middle of the range that triple sec has.
Due to the similarity in alcohol content, consistency, and fruity flavor, you can do a direct swap with this substitute. So, if you’re whipping up a beverage that calls for an ounce of triple sec, you’d simply add an ounce of maraschino liqueur instead.