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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

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

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