This means making cocktails at home, really good cocktails, requires more thought than before -- and a little bit of skill. But don't be intimidated by this new breed of beverages. Once you learn a couple of integral principles, you'll be whipping up mixologist-type beverages on the fly in no time.
First, think of your cocktail ingredients in terms of their tastes. They break down into four categories: sweet, sour, strong and weak. Strong refers to alcoholic ingredients; weak refers to non-alcoholic ones. (Sweet and sour is pretty self explanatory.) With these categories in mind, pouring a perfect cocktail is simple: you want a balance of these four tastes. That balance doesn't mean equal parts in terms of volume, but a balance in their flavors.
Once you've understood the importance of balancing flavors, ice is the next critical component for making a great cocktail. Make sure you have a ton of ice on hand (forgetting to stock up on ice is the biggest mistake most home bartenders make). And be sure to use the ice to dilute your cocktail until it's just right. (For more ice tips, check out this story.)
When making cocktails at home, carefully choose your ingredients. Never use pre-made mixes. Ever. Use fresh juices, good-quality alcohol, and experiment with flavors. Make simple syrups at home and liven them up with herbs and fruit. Consider adding muddled fresh fruit in place of juice; it adds a nice touch especially when there's so much in season during the summertime.
The finishing touches, such as topping off a cocktail with a couple drops of bitters or spritzing citrus on the rim of the glass, are simple steps to take and can really set your drink apart. With these four principles in mind, you'll be mixing up top-notch cocktails in no time.