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Grand Marnier's Grand Mixologist

Patrick Raguenaud spends months, even years, perfecting his own bottled “cocktails” before turning any of them over to the bartenders and mixologists of the world to use in whipping up their own creations. 

As a master distiller for Marnier Lapostolle, Raguenaud keeps his ingredients fairly simple: (1) distilled spirits, almost exclusively Cognac, made from base wines that he ferments, (2) distilled essence from special, dried orange peels, (3) sugar, (4) an occasional spice and, more recently, (5) fruit infusions. Nothing more. “No grains,” he says.

This fall, Grand Marnier will be releasing three new creations in the United States. which I recently tasted with Raguenaud at the company’s offices in New York.

Marnier Lapostolle – which also makes wines as well as Marnier Cognacs– has been producing since 1880 its signature Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge liqueur ($40), made from a sweetened Cognac and a distilled, distinctive, bitter orange peel grown at the company’s plantation in Haiti.  In more recent years, they have started to expand beyond Cordon Rouge into spirits (dry as opposed to sweet) that begin with the Grand Marnier flavor base.  (The one exception is the recently introduced Kappa Pisco, which allowed Raguenaud to play with a different set of grapes and a differing style of winemaking than he uses in Cognac.)

The first of the three new releases in the U.S. is GM Titanium, ($45) a combination of young and old Cognacs (you can get a hint of rancio in tasting it) with single- and double-distilled orange peels and a few spices – no sugar.

Second is the new, fruit-flavored Grand Marnier – Grand Marnier Signature Collection No. 2 - Raspberry Peach ($40), which is surprisingly refreshing and elegant.  The first of the fruit series was GM No. 1, cherry, released last year.  “The raspberry and the peach are infused, not distilled,” Raguenaud explains.  He says GM plans to release a new fruit flavor each year – no easy task, he says after having tried dozens of combinations.  I told him I like to pour a touch of Grand Marnier over freshly-cut strawberries for dessert, but he says that combo of orange and strawberries doesn’t work for him in the distillery or the bottle.

Finally for fall release, there is Grand Marnier Cuvée 1880 ($350).  It’s a “celebration” of the 1880 founding date, using the same ingredients as Cordon Rouge, but with more, and more-varied, Cognacs incorporated and with less sweetness.  It is fantastic – the aromas and flavors explode in the glass.

With its large spirits cellar (“we can even get some from the paradis” or collection of rare old Cognacs, he says), Raguenaud can produce an infinite number of different liqueurs and spirits by varying the spirit, sweetness and distilled orange peel components.  As a good mixologist, he knows it’s not always just the ingredients but also their proportions.

And as for Signature Collection No. 3 due in 2014, Raguenaud is non-committal and still trying combinations.  “We tasted cacao last week,” he says.

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