Cocktails make alcohol taste good. That's not to say their only use is to disguise the taste and make getting drunk more pleasant. Typically I have 1 or 2 cocktails in a sitting - enough to enjoy the flavours but not enough to get drunk off. Non-alcoholic cocktails can also be good.
Making cocktails yourself is way, way cheaper than buying them in a bar. It's not uncommon for £1 of ingredients to cost £7 if someone else makes it for you.
You Will Need....
You don't need to go overboard with ingredients and equipment to start with.
You can pretty much get going with:
- White Rum
- Fruit Juices
- Simple Syrup (make your own)
- Soda Water / Lemonade / Tonic
Many cocktails don't require any special equipment beyond a measure. A cocktail shaker (dishwasher safe if you have one) is a good start. A measure that sits on top of the glass and can be tipped into the glass is highly recommended, so you don't spill booze over your hands. You can muddle with the end of a rolling pin and strain with a standard sieve if required. Black straws, cocktail umbrellas, stirrers etc can be purchased new off ebay a lot cheaper than in shops. IKEA sell cheap glasses; get a few types. A blender is useful for puréeing fruit/crushing ice, but not essential. WMF (in John Lewis, House of Fraser etc) make the nicest cocktail equipment IMHO, but it comes at a price.
Currently on the cocktail shelf:
Not all alcohol is vegan.
You probably knew this already, but I had to say. This includes Martini (clarified with egg).
Fortified wine (vermouth, sherry, port etc) is made from wine, which can be clarified with gelatine, egg, blood etc. Spirits can be filtered with bone char and have had lactic acid added during fermentation (some also have colourings - particularly absinthe). Whisky is often stored in unwashed ex sherry barrels (particularly scotch) to pick up the flavour. Liqueurs can contain cream, colourings, flavourings, preservatives, sugar etc.
The best but far from perfect (the whole question and reply is often not stated) list online is http://www.barnivore.com/ - beware other sites with outdated information.
Don't forget that you can make your own flavoured spirits. I've made sloe gin, sloe brandy, damson gin, peach & lychee gin, Christmas vodka and cherry vodka so far.
I buy a bottle every few weeks. My booze collection a couple of years back (bigger now!):
Figure Out The Type of Cocktail You Like
Long? Short? Very Alcoholic? Non-alcoholic? With lots of juice added? A dash of juice? Hot? Ice cold? Fruity? Creamy? Chocolatey?
Despite it's fame, most people find martinis quite unpleasant. Don't feel like you need to conform.
If you've got an idea before you start looking for recipes you'll make less cocktails you don't enjoy.
Personally I like creamy cocktails and fruity cocktails. I'm not into overly bitter drinks or those containing only spirits.
Avoid Crap Recipes
There are a *lot* of crap cocktail recipes on-line. This includes video demonstrations of techniques where the actor clearly has no clue. Don't judge books by their pictures; they may well be stock photos.
You can waste a lot of good booze if you're not careful. If a recipe looks nasty it probably is.
Look for recipes on drink manufacturer websites, as they're likely to have had a professional go over them. Blogs can be good, particularly those with comments from people who have tried them and verified they're good.
Wikipedia has IBA ingredients for cocktails listed, however it doesn't often have the method included. Whilst standard, IBA ingredient ratios/product choices don't suit everyone.
Figure Out What You Want To Make Before Buying The Alcohol
Unless you have loads of money you'll want to collect bottles over time. Don't blow your budget then find you can't make what you want.
Follow Recipes - Don't Take Shortcuts
Muddling isn't the same as garnishing. Shaking is not the same as stirring. The temperature it is served at does matter.
How you make a cocktail will affect the result. If you take short cuts you will regret it.
You can often substitute brands for similar, but leaving an ingredients out (unless it's a garnish purely for decoration) can radically affect the success of a drink.
If you do go to a cocktail bar and the cocktails are good, sit at or stand by the bar and watch how the cocktails are made.
Make Sure You Have Enough Ice
Many cocktails require large amount of ice, which is often discarded after mixing. If you'renot lucky enough to have an ice maker consider buying ice cubes ready made or invest in a couple more trays. Keeping regularly used booze in the fridge can help too.