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Fox BYO

Avoiding Mixology Mishaps

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A new year is an opportunity to start things fresh. Our resolutions are almost always about bettering oneself. But sadly, few live up to their lofty goals. So many fall by the wayside as they attempt to lose weight, quit smoking or write the next great American novel. But some resolutions are easy to stick to – like taking your cocktails to a whole new level by avoiding the simple mixology mistakes made by so many.

Sure, there's no accounting for taste when it comes to drinking, but these missteps are some of the main reasons people are convinced they can't get a good drink anywhere but the bar – and even then it's rare! So make 2011 a banner year one drink at a time and avoid these rookie mistakes.

Stirred, but hardly shaken – James Bond is so many shades of awesome, but for years his taste in cocktails was abysmal. Vodka martinis, shaken, not stirred, became a mantra and in short order mixologists worldwide started shaking up drinks that were never meant to slosh around inside a Boston shaker. If a cocktail contains only spirits, it should be stirred, never shaken! Not only does shaking add more water due to significantly more ice melting, throwing off the delicate balance of a cocktail, but it also adds tiny air bubbles – clouding the liquid. That's great for a cocktail with juices, cream or egg in it where a frothy appearance is a thing of beauty. But cocktails like martinis and manhattans should glow in the dim light of the bar, announcing that you're a drinker of discerning taste and deserve nothing but the finest 2011 has to offer.

Bottom shelf hooch should stay there – With the economy still on the skids, it's tempting to pick up the cheapest stuff on the liquor store shelf. Resist the temptation. Booze is one of life's little luxuries and unless you're the type to burn through a bottle of good vodka in a few hours (in which case you should get help, not mix drinks), a high-quality bottle will last a while and give you more than your money's worth. A cocktail is only as good as the ingredients you put in it. Adding a few ounces of liquor that's only one step above rubbing alcohol might save you a few bucks, but in return you'll have the unique opportunity to enjoy the hangover of a lifetime and a reputation as the worst bartender your friends know.

Margaritas do not come in green plastic bottles – Bottom shelf liquor isn't the only thing that can ruin cocktails. Sure, premixed cocktails like margaritas and diaquiris are big time-savers, but they can't compare to hand-crafted versions of the drinks. Plus, with all of the preservatives, stabilizers, sugar, and bizarre neon dyes and chemicals it takes to make them even vaguely palatable, you're far better off mixing up a batch of your own. It doesn't take that long, it tastes far better, and you know exactly what you're getting. Unless you just don't like the people at your party. In that case, neon-green drinks for everyone!

Measure twice, pour once – You go to the bar and watch the bartender mixing up rum and cokes and Long Island Iced Teas with a smile and nary a shot glass or measuring spoon in sight. The drinks are strong, they taste half decent and the bartender in question looks pretty cool as they splash in the ingredients. Of course, this is why most people don't know what a good martini tastes like. Cocktails are all about balance. However good you are, eyeballing measurements invariably leads to a drink that's out of whack. That's especially true when dealing with simple cocktails with few ingredients. Being off by even a quarter ounce can doom those drinks to mediocrity or worse. The best mixologists measure everything – coming as close to guaranteeing a perfect pour each time. It takes a bit longer, but it can mean the difference between impressing the woman of your dreams with the ultimate Cosmo and developing something that bears a remarkable resemblance to battery acid.