Cocktail cupboard essentials
They used to be known as plain old barmen, but these days the best cocktail mixers are just as likely to be described as mixologists, Chefs du bar or even 'liquid therapists'.
But although cocktail-making is a skill, you don't have to take exams in 'liquid therapy' to make perfectly good cocktails at home. A good cocktail might be a subtle fusion of complimentary flavours, but making one is also about following a classic recipe and moulding it to your own taste.
Whilst it's all about patience, practice and not being afraid to have fun experimenting, no bar is complete without the right spirits, ingredients and equipment to hand.
So here are your cocktail cupboard essentials, and a few reasons no aspiring mixologist should be without them.
Buying enough spirits to cover all bases could be expensive. Instead, figure out a few favourite recipes and buy in what you need, in smallish quantities to start with. You can always add to them as you find new cocktails you want to try.
The mainstays of any cocktail cupboard are gin, vodka, white rum, brandy, tequila, Scotch whisky and bourbon. You'll also need a selection of liqueurs, like Tia Maria, Cointreau or crème de menthe.
With those you have the basis for a wide range of popular cocktails. A Black Russian, for example, is based around vodka and Tia Maria, while a Citrus Long Gin is all about good gin and orange liqueur.
Lots of cocktails need a bit of fizz, so stock up on lemonade, Coke and tonic water. Simple soda water is also a must, as it provides the body in longer drinks like Whisky Highballs and Mojitos.
Fruity cocktails are common so don't forget juices - orange and pineapple are essential and you'll want tomato for a good Bloody Mary. Cranberry is also useful and even more so now Sex and the City is back. It was the original TV series that made the cranberry-based Cosmopolitan such a hit.
A bottle of Angostura Bitters - that strange concoction of rum, plant extract and herbs - is also a good investment. It will last for ages and is the making of several cocktails, everything from a Pink Gin to an Americano via a Dark and Stormy.
Garnishes and decorations
You could live without garnishes but where's the fun in that? Cocktails are meant to be decadent, showy and a little bit mad, so if you want an olive and an umbrella, go for it!
Of course, some garnishes are absolutely necessary. You can't have a classic Margarita without lime wedges and salt, while a Bloody Mary without Worcestershire Sauce is a pretty anaemic creation.
Twists of lemon, orange or lime also help to bring out the flavour of many cocktails, and should always be on hand. After that, think black and green olives and perhaps even maraschino cherries (for Gin Sours and Manhattans) and you're covered.
But don't forget, you'll need plenty of ice. Ice cube freezer bags are ideal to supplement your ice trays, but if you haven't room for lots of ice cube trays in your freezer, you can buy always buy in bags of ice.
You could go mad on cocktail equipment, but you don't have to. The comprehensive cocktail cupboard would contain at least four types of glass, long spoons, swizzle sticks or stirrers, straws, paper umbrellas, tongs, an electric blender, ice buckets and an ice crusher...
But all you really need beyond what you already have in the kitchen is a good cocktail shaker. You'll want either a classic Boston, or a three-piece with built-in strainer.
Of course classic cocktail glasses will evoke a certain style. The Manhattan is a traditional V-shaped glass with a long stem, designed to stop ingredients separating and keep the drink cool. It looks the part, too.
But you don't have to serve your creations in anything but highballs or tumblers if you don't want to. Like pretty much anything to do with cocktails, the details are up to you.