Once you've mastered the basics, expand your knowledge to popular ingredients and mix up memorable signature party drinks. Here are a few ingredients to get you started.
Bitters: Distilled from herbs, flowers, seeds, and other aromatics, bitters are a staple in drinks such as an old-fashioned or Manhattan. The alcohol content is high and the flavors are generally bitter (hence the name). Find these drink accents in liquor stores or look online for specialty varieties, such as mint.
Sweet vermouth: Forget what you know about the sticky-sweet stuff in the liquor aisle next to its dry counterpart. It's worth seeking out better quality sweet vermouth. Not only will your standard Manhattan suddenly become the darling of the cocktail hour, you'll also find yourself enjoying sweet vermouth over the rocks as an aperitif.
Prosecco: The Italian version of France's Champagne, prosecco is among the world's food-friendliest wines. The inexpensive bubbly pairs as well with upscale pork roast as it does with hot dogs and potato salad. It's also a mainstay in sparkling specialty cocktails, such as the classic bellini. Drink it alone or add it to any number of fruit juices or purees (try pomegranate or strawberry) to create sprightly party drinks.
St-Germain: A French liqueur made from elderflower blossoms, St-Germain has a subtle yet complex flavor. It easily pairs with a variety of spirits in many cocktails, and it has a sugar content that is roughly half that of other liqueurs. Drink recipes often pair St-Germain with sparkling wine, white or rose wines, or fruit. It's also used in variations of the old-fashioned, gimlet, and other classic cocktails.
Simple syrup: A key sweetener in many cocktails, simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water. Rather than purchase it, simple syrup is easy to make at home. Simply heat equal parts sugar and water slowly in a saucepan to dissolve sugar. You can flavor simple syrup with spices, herbs, or fruits. After the sugar dissolves and the mixture is still hot, add your flavor component; cover and steep up to 2 hours. Strain the syrup through a sieve. Refrigerate in a sealed container.
Fresh sour mix: Fresh always tastes best, and making sour mix at home allows you to make quantities appropriate for your party needs. For fresh sour mix, squeeze fresh lemon juice; strain with a sieve. Combine two parts lemon juice with one part simple syrup. Refrigerate up to 5 days.
Editor's Tip: For an easy embellishment, rim the edges of your party glasses with colored sugar. Put sugar in a shallow dish. Rub the rim of an empty glass with a lemon or lime half, then dip the glass in the sugar to coat.