Now that you've stocked the perfect home bar, you've suddenly realized you left out one really important thing: The fanciest drink you know how to make is a Cuba Libre. Fear not. All you need are a few recipes and a little professional know-how.
Pour like a pro
To properly pour a drink, you'll need pour-spouts that fit into your liquor bottles. These pour spouts control the flow of the liquor, making spills less likely. Don't store the bottles with the pour-spouts in place. Remove them at the end of each night for a wash.
You'll also need a jigger. It's a bartender's measuring device shaped like an hour glass with one 3/4-ounce (half shot) measure and a 1-1/2-ounce (full shot) measure on the opposite side. If you don't want to invest in one, you can use a shot glass, though the shape of the jigger makes it easier to pour.
Shake, shake, shake!
You'll also need a cocktail shaker and strainer. There are two models. A three-piece shaker comes with a built-in strainer, though many with smaller hands prefer the Boston shaker (a pint glass that fits into a larger metal cup), though you'll need a separate strainer.
Rather than keeping your alcohol in the freezer, you simply pour the ingredients over ice, shake vigorously using two hands and point the end toward your shoulder until the metal cup gets extra cold, and if necessary, strain the drink into the glass, leaving the ice in the shaker.
Don't reuse the ice. The cold you feel on the outside of the shaker is what happens when the ice begins to melt quickly as thermal energy from the ingredients and shaker transfer to it and vice versa, which makes your drink cold, but the ice warmer. (Science lesson courtesy of childhood Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes.)
Drink layering fool
Layering or "floating" happens when one liquid with a lower density floats on top of the other (again, props to Bill Nye). But it doesn't happen by magic and they will often try to mix (becoming a cloudy-looking mess when they re-separate) if it's not done properly.
For layered drinks, always pour in the exact order in the recipe (denser alcohols first). Pour the subsequent layers carefully over the back of a spoon inserted into the glass with the tip touching the glass just above the layer (this will just slow the pour down to prevent cloudiness).
Do the mash
Some recipes call for solid ingredients to be mashed or muddled (as in a mojito) to release their fragrance and juices to help flavor the cocktail. They make a muddling tool (muddler, bar pestle), but the tip end of a wooden spoon works just as well if you put a little elbow grease into it. You can strain out the muddled bits after the drink is made, but many find that they offer better flavor and some fun texture (and even beauty) if they're left in the drink.
Dress for success
Keep garnishes on hand, especially those that are less perishable. Simple wedges or wheels of citrus make an ordinary drink extraordinary with little work. You can also get into more complex garnishes like citrus peels, shaped fruits, curls and more. When using citrus peel, make sure you don't get any of the bitter white part (the pith) on the garnish. Use toothpicks or skewers to create complex garnishes from multiple fruits (do a Google image search for ideas). And don't forget the veggies and herbs. They make great garnishes for a number of drinks (like martinis and bloody marys).
To rim the glass with salt or sugar and more, simply use a wet finger or juicy fruit to dampen the rim of the glass. Pour the rim coating onto a small platter in a circular pattern about the size of the rim of the glass and twist the rim until it's well coated.
If you're not doing it for tips, it's just supposed to be fun! If you mess up, just have a good laugh while tweeting a pic of your monstrosity. No matter how it looks, it will usually still taste great.