1. Get the tools. A “Boston shaker” (mixing tin and pint glass) or cocktail shaker, a long-handled bar spoon, a Hawthorne or julep strainer, a citrus squeezer and a jigger.
2. Do a little reading. David Wondrich’s Imbibe! reveals that a majority of classic cocktail recipes use variations of the same few elements: spirits, ice, a kind of citrus, a kind of sugar and sometimes bitters.
3. Think like a cook. There’s a reason round, caramelized rum works better with tropical fruit flavors than bracing, savory vodka. And why you never want an eggnog spiked with tequila (at least I hope not).
4. Stick to the fundamental laws of booze. With spirits and liqueurs, a 2-to-1 proportion is the general rule.
5. Respect your most important ingredient: ice. You may want to experiment with what size ice to use—full cubes, pebbles, crushed. Use filtered water, if not distilled, and remember, if your ice has absorbed odors from the freezer, they’ll come through in the drink.
6. Don’t be afraid to admit when a drink doesn’t work. Better to throw it out and start from scratch.