Have you ever found yourself dreaming of mixing classy cocktails for your party guests, but you have no idea where you should even get started? Learning how to become a master mixologist takes time and practice, but with a small number of key ingredients, you can have everything you need to create hundreds of classic drinks.

Obviously the first thing you need to get started is an assortment of liquors, and if this is the first time you are building your collection, you probably are not looking to spend a ton of money on something you are not even sure you like yet. Fortunately, there are a four alcohols that are extremely versatile, allowing you to create an enormous variety of drinks with a minimal investment.

Vodka

Vodka is one of the cheapest hard alcohols you can buy, and there is generally not much of a difference between a mid-range vodka and a top shelf vodka. Vodka is perhaps one of the most-used liquors for mixed drinks, and it serves as the base ingredient in popular cocktails like the Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, Cosmopolitan, and many, many more. There are also a number of flavored vodkas out there, but for mixology purposes, stick to the plain stuff for now.

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Rum

The pirate’s drink of choice, rum is especially popular in sweet, refreshing cocktails like the Mojito, Mai Tai, Piña Colada, and daiquiri. Rum comes in three main varieties: dark, light, and spiced. Darker rums are generally reserved for sipping straight, whereas most cocktail recipes call for light rum. Spiced rum is generally for the kind of people who like their steaks well-done.

Gin

While it might not be as popular as it was in the old speakeasy days, Gin is still the base alcohol for some of the most iconic mixed drinks, including the Martini, Gimlet, and Tom Collins. Gin can be something of an acquired taste, so make sure you actually like cocktails made with it before you drop some cash on a bottle.

Whiskey

There are a number of different types of whiskey out there, including bourbon, scotch, and rye, and each have their place in the mixologist’s toolbox. Luckily, while some varieties are more popular for certain drinks, you can more than likely get away with using whatever you have on hand in most cases. Whiskey is the foundation of many classic cocktails, including the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and whiskey sour.

Ok, now what?

Instead of buying out your local liquor store to be able to mix any drink you want, start out with one or two cocktails that you really like and buy the ingredients for those. This is especially helpful if your favorite drinks require only one or two extra ingredients. Like martinis? The only extra ingredients you need are Vermouth and olives. Want to mix up some screwdrivers? Chances are you probably already have everything you need: vodka and orange juice.

The most important lesson is patience. Start with the basics, and then slowly add other ingredients to your collection as you need them. Before long, you will have built a mixology collection to be proud of.

Photo by Sam Howzit (license)