It is very un-suave to have to take out a cocktail recipe book at a party. But if you just remember the 3:2:1 ratio, you will have instantly memorized how to make many delicious drinks of the "sour" family. Here's how it works: take three parts of the strong liquor, two parts of the sweet liquor (usually Cointreau), and one part citrus juice, shake well over ice, and strain into a cocktail glass, adding an appropriate garnish.
Here are several drinks I make with this formula:
Margarita: 3 parts tequila: 2 parts Cointreau: 1 part fresh-squeezed lime juice. Salted rim.
Sidecar: 3 parts cognac: 2 parts Cointreau: 1 part lemon juice. Sugar-coated rim.
Cosmo: 3 parts lemon vodka: 2 parts Cointreau: 1 part lime juice, splash of cranberry juice.
Pegu club: 3 parts gin: 2 parts Cointreau: 1 part lime juice, two dashes Angostura bitters per drink.
I especially love the last one. It is excellent with Tanqueray 10. The bitters make it a pretty pink color. You can garnish these drinks with a twist from the citrus fruit you used for the juice, or a cherry.
When you use a citrus twist, make sure you peel off only the outside of the rind, not the white pith. Hold the peel over the drink and twist it. Watch the beautiful thin film of oil released over the liquid. Then, unless the edge is coated, run the twist around the outside lip of the glass and drop it into the drink.
In terms of salting/sugaring the rim, take your time with it and make sure you get the salt/sugar on the outside of the glass lip only. If it gets on the inside, too, it will melt into the drink and change the flavor balance. This is especially true with the salt. A little salt on the rim is nice, but salt dripping down into the margarita itself is a technical flaw.
When you present cocktails, it can be nice to pour the cocktail from the shaker into the glass as your guest holds it. It can also be hazardous/ pretentious. Feel it out.
While we're discussing cocktails, I want to urge you to add enough vermouth to your martinis and to encourage your bartenders to do so. A good way to do this is to order a martini "not too dry." Lately, most bartenders have been trained to pour vermouth into the shaker, swirl it around, and then pour it out. What's that all about?
There's that tired old joke about merely glancing at the bottle of vermouth or waving the bottle of vermouth in the air over the cocktail shaker or whispering the word "vermouth" while making a martini. This joke was funny when Winston Churchill made it, but that was a long time ago. If you hear someone making this joke, spill something on them.
Of course, gin and vodka are of higher quality today than they were in the days of prohibition and do not need to have their flavors smoothed out by the vermouth the way the old-fashioned hooch did. But vermouth tastes good! The vermouth makes the drink more complex, aromatic, haunting, smooth, and it also lowers the alcohol content to a slightly less lighter fluidish level.
Speaking of which, I prefer martinis shaken. This dissolves more water into the drink, making it more potable. It also ends up frosty, with little crunchy shards of ice, and a layer of foam on top like the crema on good espresso. I like a ratio of 4:1 gin to dry vermouth or 5:1 vodka to vermouth. (Because vodka has a more subtle flavor than gin, vodka martinis should be made drier.)
My favorite gin for martinis is Hendricks, with its cucumber/coriander aroma. You can garnish a Hendricks martini with a cucumber slice. You can also freeze cucumber into the ice cubes you use to shake the drink up with.
It is also nice to try white Lillet as a change from vermoth sometimes, particularly with vodka martinis. This makes a slightly sweeter cocktail, and is the ideal drink to serve to a beautiful woman. Garnish with a twist of orange.
Don't even get me started about dirty martinis. This used to be my favorite drink, but you can't even order it most places, because they pour in so much olive juice it's like drinking a jar of pickles. To make a great dirty martini at home, add about 1 or 2 tsp olive juice to your shaker. The salty, oily olive flavor should be subtle. Garnish with three olives. (I like the kind stuffed with blue cheese.) This drink tastes nutritious, as if it contains rare vitamins and minerals.