Patience Gould and the Margarita

Patience Gould is entranced by Cointreau’s literary offering – and its contribution to her new favourite drink, the Margarita

On the moving home front I have been quite lucky in that moves both in childhood and relative adulthood have not been that many. I bought my first house back in 1987 then, just after the noughties it was to a house closer to London and most recently I’ve moved into a new home in East Sussex. I mention this only because these three moves have all been associated with a particular drink.

My first house was near to the then-independent cider and fruit wine producer Merrydown, so my fridge was always stacked with at least two types of cider – much nicer than the bitter brews I’d tasted during university days down in Exeter – but I confess that the fruit wine was not my ticket. 

Of course I’d grown up a tad – some 20 years or so a tad – by the time the south east London acquisition was made – and that was at the start of the glorious summer of 2011. So the drink in question that time around? Well it just had to be champagne and it flowed very nicely... for several months in fact.

So to the latest, and hopefully the last, move for a long while. It is back to East Sussex and, curiously for a consummate gin lover like me, the signature drink this time has been the cocktail the Margarita. Yes it’s ideal for a hot and sticky summer like this one; hugely refreshing thanks to the lime, Cointreau and tequila combination while the salted rim replenishes lost ‘bodily fluids’, but until now it’s never been a particular favourite of mine.

I think it must be subliminal as, having recently looked at the use of liqueurs in cocktails for Drinks International, Cointreau was centre stage and of course it is the named liqueur in the Margarita. Added to this my brother sent me an article detailing the future problems that could befall the blue agave plant in Mexico – oh and then the local green grocer had a bulk offer for limes.

All the foundations were nicely put into place when I received the most superb book detailing the history of Cointreau – well it was just meant wasn’t it?  Having a small jug of freshly squeezed lime juice in the fridge, which is replenished every day, the Margaritas have flowed like never before.

But back to that book – put simply it is quite the best compiled and executed history of a brand I have ever come across. In the 30 years or so that I’ve been writing about the drinks industry several have come my way, but none like this one. So how is it best to describe this fascinating tome? 

Well it’s like a scrap book in a way – but that’s not to decry it. In every chapter, accompanying text in both French and English, there are little pockets containing bits and pieces pertaining to the subject matter. For instance, in the cocktail chapter, one of the said pockets contains a reproduced part-version of the original Cocktails: How to Mix Them, with an excerpt on this work of reference by Robert Vermeire in 1930, which details the original Sidecar recipe that is, of course, another Cointreau great.

Vermeire states the recipe as equal parts cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice, now known as ‘the French school’. But later on an anglicised version emerged courtesy of Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), which calls for two parts cognac and one part each of Cointreau and lemon juice. Clearly I am going to have to some very tasty research here.

I confess that over these cocktail-fuelled years I’ve wondered if the world’s best-selling and best renowned triple sec in its squat square and brown bottle was missing out on the mixing circuit. But it’s all explained in the book in the chapter ‘A unique, revolutionary bottle’ or better still en Francais, ‘Un flacon iconique en rupture avec les codes de l’époque’.

Towards the end of the 19th century liqueurs generally came in highly decorative presentations so the decision by Edouard Cointreau to go for a relatively plain bottle with a simple label meant the brand was already standing out from the madding (or is it maddening?) crowd. It continues to do so to this day, and unlike other brands which have eschewed their iconic presentations succeeding generations of the Cointreau family have remained steadfast.

Indeed in 1925 the Louis Cointreau ad campaign urged consumers: “Don’t just order a triple sec, insist on a Cointreau” and they have in droves. As a result Cointreau is Cointreau first and a triple sec second. Few brands today enjoy this iconic status. In fact I can only think of one other and that’s Bacardi – the brand comes first and the white rum comes second, well it used to at any rate and that’s definitely another story.