Cinco de Mayo is upon us, and of course that means it’s time for a margarita or three. In addition to tequila and freshly-squeezed lime juice, cocktail enthusiasts will likely be reaching for Cointreau to mix in their margaritas. But these days, people are trying to save money wherever they can. So is it possible to use less expensive ingredients and still make a great cocktail? The folks at Hiram Walker think so, and they sent a bottle of their triple sec and asked me to match it against Cointreau, the heavyweight champ of orange liqueurs, in a Triple Sec Challenge. For the taste test, Hiram Walker sent a bottle of Cointreau as well. To help me with the triple sec throwdown, I was joined by my good friend and fellow imbiber Scot (aka The Red Bearded Hipster).

The Margarita
For the Triple Sec Challenge, we mixed margaritas using a Jim Meehan recipe from the 2009 edition of Food & Wine Cocktails.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces blanco tequila
  • 3/4 oz triple sec
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1 lime wedge
  • Kosher salt
  • Ice

Preparation:

  • Moisten the outer rim of a rocks glass with the lime wedge, and coat lightly with salt.
  • Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  • Add all of the remaining ingredients and shake well.
  • Fill the rocks glass with ice and strain the drink into the glass.

Note: for the taste test, we omitted the salt on the glass rim.

The Triple Sec Challenge

We prepared two margaritas, one with Cointreau and one with the Hiram Walker. To identify which was which, we put a sticker at the bottom of each glass. Then came the taste test, and we took turns sipping from each margarita. Initially, there wasn’t an obvious difference between the two drinks. Then, after a couple more tastes, one of the margaritas emerged as our consensus pick. Checking the bottom of the glass, our choice was the margarita made with Cointreau.

We both thought the margarita with the Hiram Walker had a noticeable aftertaste. It certainly wasn’t detrimental to enjoying the cocktail, but the Hiram Walker margarita was definitely not as smooth as the one with Cointreau. That said, it took some concentration to pick out a favorite. And in a more relaxed setting, I doubt if anyone would take a sip and say, “Hey, this isn’t Cointreau!”

To put the results in a different perspective, BevMo prices its 750ML bottle of Cointreau at $33.99, while a 750ML bottle of Hiram Walker is just $7.99. If you’re mixing pitchers of margaritas for a party, or if it’s margarita o’clock every night (like it is for some people I know), Hiram Walker may very well become your go-to triple sec. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

Hiram Walker Triple Sec

  • 30% ABV
  • BevMo price: $7.99

TASTING NOTES

  • Color – Clear.
  • Nose – Strong, pungent orange; slightly bitter orange peel.
  • Taste – Sweet orange, citrus.
  • Finish – Orange, tart and sweet.

For more information, visit www.hiramwalker.com.

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