All posts by Dennis Hahn

Dennis Hahn is a cocktail enthusiast living in Portland, Oregon. My focus is on inspiring the average person who appreciates good cocktails to make them on their own at home. Dennis is the publisher of Viva la Cocktail, as well as the President of ID Branding.


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

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

Mai Tai

In my opinion, the Mai Tai is the king of all tiki drinks. While I have been mixing up Mai Tais for years, it wasn’t until I discovered the forgotten, original Trader Vic’s recipe uncovered by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry that I became a rabid fan. Why? Because the original recipe is a superb blend of quality aged Jamaican and Martinique rums with just the right amount of natural sweetness. No need for pineapple juice and grenadine here! After struggling to find Martinique rums in Oregon, I noticed Clement V.S.O.P. rum from Martinique in one of our higher end liquor stores this year. And let me say that this is the best ever! And I confirmed my choice after reading a post on Mai Tais from RumDood, who is obviously an aficionado of rums (and the Mai Tai). After exhaustive testing of Mai Tai recipes by RumDood using a breadth of rums, it appears that the Appleton/Clément V.S.O.P. came out on top. So there you have it: the perfect Mai Tai recipe.

Mai Tai
1 oz Appleton Estate Extra rum (12 year)
1 oz Clement V.S.O.P. rum (Rhum Vieux Agricole)
1/2 oz Clement Creole Shrubb
1/2 oz Trader Tiki’s orgeat syrup
1/4 oz rich simple syrup
3/4 oz lime juice

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the rums, Creole Shrubb, orgeat syrup, simple syrup and lime juice. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a 12 oz double old fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint (and an orchid if you have one).

A word about orgeat syrup: Orgeat (Or-zhä(t)) is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange-flower water. While you can make your own (which looks daunting), I suggest purchasing a high-quality one from Trader Tiki’s Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups. Theirs is made from natural ingredients in small batches.

original mai tai rum tiki drink

Caribbean Royale

For me, nothing says summer like tropical drinks. The Caribbean Royale is a great starter for an outdoor tiki party. They are quick and easy to make and it’s always nice to hand your guests a drink as soon as they arrive. Plus, it’s a lighter style cocktail that helps get the palate warmed up.

Caribbean Royale
1/2 oz Flor de Cana Extra Dry white rum
1/2 oz BOLS Creme de Bananes liqueur
1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters
3-5 oz chilled Prosecco

Pour the white rum, banana liqueur and orange bitters in a cocktail glass. Top off with the chilled Prosecco. Garnish with a white orchid.

Prosecco is an Italian dry sparkling wine and it mixes really well in cocktails. You don’t need to buy expensive Champagne for mixed drinks. I almost always use Prosecco or Spanish Cava in cocktails when sparkling wine or Champagne is called for.

caribbean royale rum tiki drink

What I Learned at Camp

Dennis Hahn mixing it up at CocktailCamp PDX

When I was a kid, I used to go off to camp to learn basic life skills—like how to make a fire, swim, or paddle a canoe. Now that I’m a grown up, I went to CocktailCamp to learn valuable new life skills such as the history of rum, how the surface area of ice affects dilution and making cocktails with tea. Valuable lessons indeed.

The first annual CocktailCamp PDX was held at the New Deal Distillery on April 11, 2010 in Portland, Oregon. Being both a speaker and a participant I can say it was a day well spent. I ended up kicking off the day because the first speaker cancelled at the last minute due to some sort of emergency. My presentation, Making Cocktails at Home, was designed as a primer for the aspiring home bartender.  I covered topics such as: how to setup your own DIY home bar; the importance of home happy hour; cocktail party basics and a variety of tips.

For those of you who missed it, there’s a great synopsis of the event on the CocktailCamp website and some nice press coverage by our local paper, The Oregonian. There are also some event photos taken by the event volunteers which are posted on Flickr.

As a participant, here are five things I learned at camp:

  1. The default way to mix a drink is to stir it—not shake. Most of the classic cocktails were stirred to keep the ice fragments and air bubbles out of your drink. But certain drinks should be shaken. Check out my earlier post on Shaking vs. Stirring cocktails for more on this.
  2. Ice is the most overlooked part of the cocktail making process. The bottom line: the more surface area, the faster the dilution rate. So crushed ice will dilute the fastest, and large flat pieces of ice (or better yet—a Japanese ice ball) will dilute the slowest.
  3. White grapefruits are sweeter than pink or “ruby red” style grapefruits.
  4. Rhum Agricole is a lighter style of rum made in the French West Indies from sugar cane (rather than dark molasses). Rhum Agricoles can be consumed neat (especially the Rhum Vieux which is aged 3 years or more) or are commonly used in tropical Tiki style drinks and are paired with molasses-based rum.
  5. The bartender panel agreed that cocktails don’t generally go out of style—there is a cocktail for everyone depending on their taste. So, good news to all of you lemon drop drinkers out there!

The next event I have in my sights is Tales of The Cocktail in New Orleans in July. Hope to see you there!

Lemon Blossom

lemon blossom tarragon vodka cocktail

We went to some friends’ house for Easter dinner and they sprung for roasted lamb, so I decided to return the favor with cocktails. Our hostess said she had some homemade limoncello on hand and I wanted to work around that and the lamb.

After pondering what would be a good prelude to lamb, I remembered this tarragon vodka from Sub Rosa Spirits made right here in Portland. After perusing Sub Rosa’s website, I found the perfect drink: the Lemon Blossom. It has limoncello in it and I thought the herbal qualities of the vodka would be perfect. I found the original recipe by Sub  Rosa to be a little too tart, so I decided to back off the fresh lemon juice by half and ended up with what I think is a nicely balanced cocktail. Our hosts didn’t complain either.

Lemon Blossom
1 + 1/2 oz Sub Rosa Tarragon vodka
1 oz St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz Limoncello

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the vodka, elderflower liqueur, juice and Limoncello. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a 10 oz chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

I made this drink first at home with commercially available limoncello. It was good, but it was even better later with the homemade limoncello. If you want to go the extra mile, I suggest you make or get your hands on some of the homemade stuff. There’s a great blog post on cocktailnerd’s site with tasting notes about various limoncellos.

Also, if you want to find out where to buy Sub Rosa Tarragon vodka, visit their website for more information.


l'oranger grapefruit gin cocktail

One of my favorite restaurants in Portland is Fenouil, and they have this fabulous drink on their menu called the L’Oranger. It’s always reminds me of sitting outside on their patio overlooking Jameson Square on a warm (and dry) spring day. I was so taken with this cocktail that I swiped the menu (as I do) so I could recreate it at home. Here’s my take on Fenouil’s inspired drink.

1 + 1/2 oz 12 Bridges Gin
1/2 oz orgeat syrup
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Ginger ale

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the gin, orgeat syrup, juice and bitters (but not the ginger ale). Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a 12 oz collins glass filled with ice. Top off with ginger ale. Garnish with an orange slice.

I like to use 12 Bridges Gin (which is made in Portland) because it’s light on the juniper with notes of cucumber, melon and rose petals. I realize 12 Bridges is hard to get outside of Oregon, so you can substitute Hendricks Gin. I also recommend that you use fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and a craft brewed ginger ale like Thomas Kemper versus a mass-produced brand. But make sure you don’t use ginger beer! Here’s to spring.