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.

Triple Sec: do you know what’s in it?

I want to call your attention to something that gets overlooked often: triple sec. It’s a basic ingredient in many cocktails such as the margarita, cosmopolitan, sidecar and hundreds of others. Triple sec is used as a flavoring agent and to make your drinks taste a little sweeter. Unless you’re paying attention to the label or drinking at an upscale bar, the triple sec that you’re probably drinking is poorly made. In fact, most name brand triple secs are made from vodka, artificial orange flavor and fructose.

I know what you’re thinking: why spend 2 to 4x more? Considering that triple sec can make up to 20% of the ingredients in your glass, you’ll notice a big difference if you use the good stuff. And, if you’re going to the trouble of juicing fresh lemons and limes for your drinks (which you should be doing in my opinion), then you want natural ingredients in your triple sec.

My advice when making drinks at home is to leave the triple sec at the store and upgrade to a higher quality substitution: Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Harlequin.

Cointreau is considered a premium triple sec, which is made with the peels of bitter Caribbean and sweet Spanish and Brazilian oranges with neutral spirits, cane sugar, and water. It also has higher alcohol content (40%) than regular triple sec (15-40%).

Grand Marnier is similar to triple sec, but is considered an orange-infused cognac. It’s richer and more complex than triple sec due to the distillation and aging process.

Harlequin Orange Liqueur is similar to Grand Marnier in that it is made with cognac. In fact, I prefer Harlequin for mixed drinks because it is less expensive and the difference is difficult to distinguish in cocktails.

Cointreau is lighter in taste than orange-infused cognacs, so it is nice for drinks that need a lighter touch—like a lemon drop or cosmo. I usually use Harlequin or Grand Marnier when I am looking for a richer taste, like in a margarita. Experiment and try out other high-quality brands of triple sec and orange-infused cognacs. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about what tastes good to you. Let me know which brands that you like.


classic margarita tequilia cocktail

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing worse than drinking a terrible margarita at the neighborhood Mexican restaurant. All you are able to taste is premade sour mix and you wonder if there’s any tequila in there at all.

Well, you don’t have to suffer at home if you do one important thing—ditch the “margarita mix” and treat yourself to a REAL margarita. It’s surprisingly simple to make.

2 oz Sauza Hornitos Añejo Tequila
1/2 oz Harlequin Orange Liqueur
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz agave nectar

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the tequila, orange liqueur, juices and agave nectar. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Pour (without straining) into a 12 oz double old fashioned glass with a salted rim.

You can use either Reposado or Añejo tequila, but make sure it is 100% pure agave. Otherwise, you are only getting half tequila and fillers. On the other hand, don’t use ultra premium tequila either because you can’t tell much difference with the additional ingredients. Ultra premium tequilas are meant to be sipped straight. That’s why I like to use Sauza Hornitos or a similarly priced brand.

For those of you who don’t know, agave nectar is a sweetner and can be found in the grocery aisle (usually near the honey).

CocktailCamp PDX 2010

The first annual CocktailCamp PDX just sold out today—I’m both terrified and excited because this is my first public speaking gig about cocktails. While I’m an accomplished public speaker on the subject of branding (and even wine), this is my first time talking about my passion—making cocktails. Naturally, I will be focusing on home cocktail culture, taking the home hobbyist perspective. This should be a great event as Portland has a strong mixology, cocktail and small batch distilled spirits community.

For those of you who don’t know, CocktailCamp is an informal, interactive conference for people who enjoy making, drinking, and discussing cocktails. If you have a ticket, make sure you say hello at the event. I’ll be the one sweating profusely from 12:30—1:00pm.


tipperary Irish whiskey chartreuse cocktail

Being it’s St. Patrick’s day and this is a site devoted to cocktails, it seems fitting that there should be a post about it. In fact, this is the only holiday that is specifically designed around drinking (or at least this is what St. Patrick’s day has come to symbolize). You know, green beer and all of that.

So, if you’re just dying to make a libation in honor of St. Patrick, I will direct you to an interesting cocktail recipe on Imbibe’s site: the Tipperary. Naturally, it features Irish Whiskey but the addition of green Chartreuse makes this one to try. And, of course it’s festive because of the green Chartreuse. I offer a slightly adapted recipe here for convenience:

2 oz John Power & Son Irish whiskey
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. green Chartreuse

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the whiskey, vermouth and green Chartreuse. Gently stir for 20-30 seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Chartreuse is a really amazing spirit—it’s made from 130 plants which have been distilled and blended into a liqueur. It’s also naturally green due to the ingredients. And, it’s made by French Carthusian monks, with the still secret recipe passed down for some 273 years. They made it because they needed the money to help perpetuate their order and dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation. You can read the full history on the Chartreuse website while you’re sipping your Tipperary.

How to Rim a Cocktail Glass

Many recipes call for the cocktail glass to be rimmed. This can be anything like sugar, salt or cocoa powder. This is used to enhance the taste of the cocktail or sometimes just for decoration.

First, you moisten the rim of the glass  with a lemon or lime. I like to use an orange because it is a little stickier than the others.  Ideally you rim the outside of the glass to keep your ingredient out of the drink, but this takes a little practice and patience.

Then you roll the glass in a plate filled with the sugar, salt or whatever until the rim is completely covered. Ideally, you want to do this about 15 minutes before you fill the glass. This gives time for the rim to dry and will keep your sugar, salt or whatever from falling off.

This video from Small Screen Network featuring Jamie Boudreau demonstates the process well.

Fruit Puree

You’ll see that a few cocktail recipes call for a fruit puree of some kind. You have a few options when it comes to purees. You can buy them already made up or you can make your own. Unless you are making a large volume of drinks (for say a party), I suggest you make your own. It’s really easy and the purees are fresh.

Mango Puree
2 mangos, peeled and pitted
2 tablespoons baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pear Puree
2 pears, peeled and cored
2 tablespoons baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the fruit, sugar, water and lemon juice; process to a smooth puree, about 30 seconds. Add more sugar to taste. Strain through a fine metal sieve set over a bowl. Use a rubber spatula to stir and press the puree through the sieve; discard solids. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

I store my purees in those GladWare Mini Round 1/2 cup (4 oz) platic containers. They freeze well and you can label them with your type of fruit and the date. This size is perfect for making about 4 cocktails at a time.

Spicy Tango

Even though I really enjoy wine, I often like to pair cocktails with food. This drink, the Spicy Tango, complements Latin food because it’s a nice balance of spicy and sweet, with just enough heat. But it also works well on its own—my wife and I recently enjoyed these during our happy hour with Cheeze-Its! This is proof that there are no rules to drinking cocktails.

Spicy Tango
4-6 cilantro leaves
1 oz Absolut Mango
1+1/2 oz Absolut Peppar
1/2 oz Harlequin Orange Liqueur
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh mango puree

Fill a shaker 1/3 full of ice. Muddle the cilantro leaves. Fill rest of shaker with ice. Add the vodkas, orange liqueur, lime juice, simple syrup and mango puree. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Double strain (to remove large cilantro pieces) into a 10 oz chilled martini glass with a sugared rim. Garnish with a fresh sprig of cilantro.

Every Friday at our office, we have a happy hour party that we call “Snacky,” and this past week’s theme was “heaven and hell” which inspired the creation of this drink. I hastily threw a version of this together to capture both heaven and hell in a single cocktail. While it was drinkable, I refined it later at home by adding the cilantro and adjusting the proportions.

spicy tango mango pepper vodka cocktail

Shaking vs. Stirring Cocktails

A question that comes up often is: when do I shake a cocktail and when do I stir? The basic rule of thumb is this:

Shaking Cocktails
You shake any cocktail that contains juice, cream, eggs or other cloudy ingredients.

Stirring Cocktails
You stir a cocktail when the ingredients are all spirits.

I think this video from Imbibe (featuring Jeffrey Morgenthaler) demonstrates the difference well.

Sometimes I break the rules and shake my Manhattans or Martinis if I want little ice shards floating in my drink.

Basil-Infused Bianco Vermouth

This infusion makes a nice summertime sipper by adding club soda. You can also use it in other cocktails like the Cinzano Basil Martini. You will need to make this at least a day before you plan to use it so that the basil has a chance to flavor the vermouth. You can keep it in your fridge and use it whenever the mood strikes.

Basil-Infused Bianco Vermouth
1 bottle (750ml) Cinzano Bianco
15-20 large basil leaves, washed, dried and stemmed

Pour the vermouth into a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and add the basil leaves (save the bottle for later). Stir briefly, close the container and set aside overnight.

Skim the basil leaves out of the container and discard. Pour the infused vermouth through a fine mesh strainer back into the empty vermouth bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Cinzano Basil Martini

Years ago I came across a recipe for basil-infused Bianco Vermouth, which makes a wonderful summertime drink by adding club soda. It seemed to me that this would also make a nice alternative to regular dry vermouth in a martini. So here it is: the Basil Martini!

Basil Martini
3 oz Pearl Vodka
1/4 oz basil-infused Bianco Vermouth

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the vodka and vermouth. Gently stir for 20-30 seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a basil leaf and a lemon twist.

I think using basil-infused vermouth is an interesting alternative to infusing the vodka. It’s more of a throwback to a classic martini with a twist. Try it and let me know what you think.

cinzano bianco vermouth vodka basil martini