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Mandarin Sky

The Mandarin Sky is a great winter cocktail since blood oranges are in season. And yes, you must use FRESH blood oranges—not the bottled juice. Please read the Viva la Cocktail Welcome page so you understand my thoughts on this. It’s a little more work, but you’ll enjoy your drinks more.

This cocktail is a little tart based on the recipe below, but I think the balance is just right. You can always add a little more simple syrup if you like your drinks a little sweeter.

Mandarin Sky
2 oz Absolut Mandarin vodka
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz fresh blood orange juice
1/2 oz simple syrup

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the vodka, Cointreau, juices and simple syrup. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a 10 oz chilled martini glass and garnish with a quarter slice of blood orange.

Tip: If you are making this drink for a group, it is a good idea to juice your oranges ahead of time and store it in the fridge. I use a Cuisinart electric juicer which saves a lot of hand work.

mandarin sky vodka cocktail

How to muddle

Muddling is an important technique in cocktail making. The idea is to use a muddling stick to extract juice or essential oils from fruit and herbs.

When muddling, lightly push on the ingredients (such as fruit and herbs) in the bottom of a mixing glass with a flat-bottomed muddling stick until the juice is extracted. You don’t want to kill it or you’ll get a lot of bitter taste. Once your ingredients are combined, you typically add ice and the remaining liquid ingredients prior to shaking your cocktail.

A muddling stick or muddler is often shaped like a baseball bat and is commonly made of wood. You will also find muddlers made of metal or plastic with teeth on the bottom. Use the kind with teeth carefully as people tend to over-muddle with these and end up with a bitter drink.

Smoky Sunset

This cocktail was created to address two common questions:

  1. What other kind of cocktail can you create with tequila besides a margarita?
  2. What can you make with añejo tequila?

If you don’t know, añejo is the darker tequila that is aged in an oak barrel. The amber color and flavor is picked up from the oak, and the oxidation that takes place contributes to the unique bouquet and taste.

Adding grilled pineapple and fresh sage plays nicely off of the smoky quality of the añejo tequila.

Smoky Sunset
2 + 1/2 oz Don Julio Añejo Tequila
1/2 oz agave nectar
2 chunks fresh, grilled pineapple
4 fresh sage leaves

Gently muddle 2, one-inch chunks of fresh grilled pineapple with 3 fresh sage leaves in the bottom of a shaker. Add the tequila, agave nectar and ice. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Double strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a wedge of grilled pineapple and a fresh sage leaf.

Tip – You can grill the pineapple garnishes up to a day ahead of time and store them in the fridge until you are ready to use them. You can also substitute any 100% agave añejo tequila.

smoky sunset anjeo tequila cocktail


The Manhattan, simply put, is my very favorite cocktail. It’s my go-to cocktail for home happy hours or when I don’t know what I’m in the mood for. I always drink it in my special glass—the one with the bullseye on it. My wife gave me this glass as a gift and it’s my traditional happy hour cocktail glass. It’s important to establish little happy hour traditions at home. It’s also the drink that I typically order on the road to see if the bartender is capable of making a good cocktail or not. So while this drink is not new, my recipe collection would be incomplete without it.

2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey
1 oz Vya sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fee Brothers aromatic bitters

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the bourbon or whiskey, vermouth and bitters. Gently stir for 20-30 seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a maraschino or brandied cherry.

If you are new to drinking Manhattans, I suggest you start with bourbon since it is a little more approachable. Make sure you use a decent one such as Maker’s Mark. After you’ve grown accustomed to the bourbon Manhattan, move on to an American rye whiskey such as Sazerac Rye. The original Manhattans were made with rye whiskey, so it is only fitting that you try one that way. Or you can just use Bulleit Bourbon which is a nice compromise between the two since it is a bourbon with a high rye content (about 30%). Cheers!

manhattan bourbon cocktail

Homemade Egg Nog

Most people love the idea of enjoying a stiff egg nog cocktail over the holidays, but most egg nog is terrible. That’s because the stuff in stores is thick and full of preservatives.

I have come across an amazing homemade egg nog recipe that’s wonderfully silky smooth – and more importantly very easy to make. I have been enjoying this recipe from one of my favorite mixologists, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, every holiday over the years.

Homemade Egg Nog
2 large eggs
3 oz (by volume) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg*
2 oz brandy
2 oz spiced rum
6 oz whole milk
4 oz heavy cream

Beat eggs in blender for one minute on medium speed. Slowly add sugar and blend for one additional minute. With blender still running, add nutmeg, brandy, rum, milk and cream until combined. Chill thoroughly to allow flavors to combine and serve in chilled wine glasses or champagne coupes, grating additional nutmeg on top immediately before serving.

*I prefer to substitute the nutmeg with 1/2 oz of Allspice Dram, also known as Pimento Dram. It is an allspice flavored liqueur originally made in Jamaica and gives the drink that extra holiday kick.

homemade egg nog cocktail

The Kitchenette

This cocktail is long overdue. I created this drink in honor of my friend Chris, who has been a big supporter of my efforts with Viva la Cocktail. She lives just north of San Francisco, so I wanted to create something that would be fitting of her California lifestyle. I turned to organic vodka and fresh herbs and started to work around that. I also wanted to create a cocktail that was fitting of her personality—something sophisticated but not too formal. With some trial and error, The Kitchenette was born.

The name comes from her passion for good food and drink, which was embodied in her website called Kitchenette. It was an online magazine dedicated to “celebrating experiences of the palate.”

While this cocktail does not include everything but the kitchen sink, I did want to add some subtle complexity to the drink. I turned to Bols Genever, which is a unique gin from the pre-prohibition era that has been brought back by Bols.

The Kitchenette
2 oz Square One organic vodka
1/2 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 fresh lime
4 fresh basil leaves

Cut 1/2 lime into 3 wedges. Muddle limes with 3 basil leaves in shaker. Fill shaker with ice. Add the vodka, Genever and simple syrup. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Double strain into a 6 oz chilled martini glass. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf.

the kitchenette organic vodka cocktail

Thurston Howl

Nothing says “tiki” like a drink served in a tiki mug with an extravagant garnish. I always like to incorporate one drink served in a tiki mug into my tiki party cocktail rotation. This is your chance to go all out on the garnish—the more the better as far as I’m concerned! Because the drink is served with a straw, you can really load it up and not worry about pineapple chunks plopping out when your guest takes a sip.

The Thurston Howl is a wonderful concoction ripped from the pages of Imbibe magazine (May/June-2009). It makes wonderful use of Tangueray’s Rangpur gin—which is heavy on the lime—and pairs well with the Appleton rum and the Paul Masson brandy. This is a delightful concoction to sip on a warm summer day. Plus, the name always brings a smile to people’s faces.

Thurston Howl
1 oz Appleton Estate V/X rum
1/2 oz Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP brandy
1/2 oz Tangueray Rangpur gin
2 oz pineapple juice
1/4 oz grapefruit juice
2 oz papaya nectar
1/4 oz Trader Tiki’s cinnamon syrup
1/2 oz ginger syrup

Fill a shaker full of ice. Add the rum, brandy, gin, juices, nectar and syrups. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Pour into a tiki mug. Garnish with pineapple, cherries, cinnamon stick and a hibiscus flower.

Making garnishes should be fun—so take your time. You can pre-make your garnishes right before your party so that you don’t feel rushed when your making drinks. Be careful when using flowers as garnishes because you don’t want to use flowers with pesticides on them. I like to grow my own flowers for garnishes since I know that they’re not treated with anything.

thurston howl rum tiki drink

Hawaiian Island Dream

There is no better way to end your tiki party or just an evening of tropical food and drinks than with a dessert cocktail. Personally, I’m happy with a glass of aged demerara rum, but some people prefer something more dessert-like. And nothing says dessert more than chocolate.

The Hawaiian Island Dream is a Viva La Cocktail creation that captures the flavors of Hawaii in a dessert drink—coconut and macadamia nut. Add a little white chocolate liqueur and vanilla vodka, and you have a heavenly concoction that will have you dreaming of Hawaiian nights.

Hawaiian Island Dream
1 + 1/2 oz Cruzan Coconut Rum
1 + 1/2 oz Stoli Vanil vodka
1/2 oz Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur
1/2 oz Kahana Royale Macadamia Nut Liqueur

Fill a shaker full of ice. Add the rum, vodka, white chocolate liqueur and macadamia nut liqueur. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with toasted coconut.

If you can’t find macadamia nut liqueur, you can substitute Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur.

hawaiian island dream rum tiki drink

Center of the Galaxy

Here’s a fantastic new cocktail based on traditional tiki drink ingredients: demerara rum, lime juice, cinnamon and honey. This recipe is in the January/February issue of Imbibe magazine, and was developed by Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco.

Center of the Galaxy
2 oz El Dorado 12 Year Old demerara rum
1/4 oz Chambord black raspberry liqueur
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz demerara syrup
1/2 oz honey syrup
1 small pinch cinnamon

Fill a shaker full of ice. Add the rum, raspberry liqueur, lime juice, syrups and cinnamon. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a raspberry lime wheel.

I am a huge fan of demerara rums. They are aromatic and pungent like Jamaican rums, but are also drier and smokier giving them a very distinctive flavor. The aged demerara rums (like El Dorado 12, 15, 21 and 25 year) are lovely on their own as sipping rums, but the younger ones really shine in tiki drinks like a Demerara Dry Float, Queen’s Park Swizzle and the Center of the Galaxy. Demerara rum also comes in 151 proof for higher-octane cocktails such as the 151 Swizzle, which is also a favorite of the house.

center of the galaxy rum tiki drink

Sorbet in the Sun

I came across this variation of a Piña Colada in the July/August issue of Imbibe magazine. What I like about it is that the recipe uses coconut sorbet instead of the sticky-sweet cream of coconut, producing a drier and lighter cocktail. Just make sure you use a good quality white rum and fresh juice.

Sorbet in the Sun
2 oz Flor de Cana Extra Dry white rum (4 year)
1 oz fresh pineapple juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 (small) scoop softened coconut sorbet

Fill a shaker full of ice. Add the rum, pineapple juice, lime juice and coconut sorbet. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with dried coconut flakes.

After trying a few different coconut sorbets, I recommend Double Rainbow—it’s the best!

sorbet in the sun rum tiki drink