Some common themes to keep in mind when crafting your cocktails…
Quality in = Quality out.
Don’t skimp on quality spirits. Cocktails are like cooking: the final product is only as good as the ingredients inputted.
Fresh juices, ALWAYS!
If you’ve never had a cocktail using fresh lime, lemon, orange, etc. juices, you may not realize the immediate benefit their freshness brings. Do yourself a favor a try a Margarita or a Daiquiri with fresh lime and discover the difference. Now, never make a cocktail without fresh juices ever again. I mean it.
Ice is also an important ingredient.
Be aware of the ice you’re using to prepare your cocktails with. Is it big, dense blocks of ice or the little chippy kind? The quality of water, the size, the temperature, all have impacts on the final product. Big blocks are great for keeping drinks cold while having a slower rate of dilution, allowing the drinker to enjoy longer. The cheap chippy ice will melt rapidly and thus ruin the drink after only a couple of minutes. The ice also dictates the preparation of a drink. Using big ice blocks to stir is impractical as it will take to long to achieve the proper level of dilution, but cracked ice is perfect. However, sturdy ice blocks will do well in a shaker because you can shake vigorously to chill the cocktail while not over-diluting the drink.
As long as the drink tastes good, you did it right.
Whether you enjoy your old-fashioned without ice or with, if it satisfies the drinker, it was made right. Sure, there are axioms of cocktail traditions, but the culture of alcoholic beverages are not so regimented that these traditions cannot be temporarily lifted without a Constitutional amendment. Drink what you enjoy, bottom line.