First try pouring your bourbon neat: room temperature, no ice. Swirl it to release the flavors. Then try it with a few drops of water, which allows the flavors to open a bit more. Try it on the rocks. As the ice begins to melt, the drink will slowly become more diluted and you’ll experience a range of flavors. Purists will tell you always to drink it neat, but only tasting will tell you what your palette prefers.
Next consider the Martini. How cold do you want it? Shaking gets the drink icy-cold and distributes the vermouth more thoroughly, with less of an oily taste in the mouth, but it is rough on the delicate flavors of the gin and can make the drink taste sharp. If you, like James Bond, drink Vodka in your martini, bruising is not a problem and you’ll want it icy-cold. So you’ll want it shaken, not stirred.
Now you’re ready to get fancy. Many classic cocktail recipes were born during the era of Prohibition, when speakeasies sought to mask the taste of inferior alcohol, but they became so wildly popular that they were here to stay. Drinks like the Gin Fizz, the Aviation, the Widow’s Kiss, the French 75 and the Singapore Sling still bring a hint of glamour to any party and a sense that you are indulging in something decadent.
So shake it, stir it, rock it — and welcome to the club.