A few miscellaneous tips for drinkers and amateur bartenders
1) Ice is important. You need about twice as much as you probably think you need. You can quickly chill cocktail glasses and shake drinks until they’re very cold, and for lots of drinks on the rocks you’ll shake a portion on ice and also pour the drink over ice to keep it cold.
2) When collecting spirits for a home bar don’t get top shelf brands of base liquor unless you really want them. The subtleties of the best brands are usually lost when mixed with fruit juices, sodas, etc. If you really love good sipping tequila than by all means get some, but don’t put $35/bottle tequila in margaritas for your buddies.
3) Invest in good liqueurs over time. Start out with some Cointreau, Kahlua, and amaretto, but don’t stop there. There’s a wealth of delicious liqueurs out there that reward you with drinks different from any you’ve tasted before: Luxardo (maraschino), Amaro (herbal), absinthe (anise), Frangelico (hazelnut), and so many more. They’re pricey, but a little goes a long way in a drink.
4) Try some bitters. Any liquor store will have Angostura bitters, and it’s mighty fine and useful stuff. Try a few others, though: a lemon bitters, Regan’s Orange, Peychaud’s. You usually only need one or two dashes per drink to add a great depth and complexity, so a bottle of the stuff can last YEARS.
5) Don’t use regular table sugar. Most mixed drinks are cold, and crystallized sugar doesn’t dissolve in cold liquid without a lot of shaking. Make simple syrup: one part water to one part sugar, heated in a pot until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally, let cool and pour in a bottle when done. Alternatively, get some superfine sugar (also called bar sugar or caster sugar); it dissolves easily even in cold liquids.