A.: The first thing to say is that you're not going wrong. By following those well-known recipes, you can be sure of consistent results, and if you and your guests enjoy them, you're doing everything right. I'm guessing from your question, though, that you're aiming to make, not just good cocktails, but great ones. That's where things get tricky. You see, cocktail waiters are notoriously individualistic in their work. They all want to make the greatest Martini there ever was, the most interesting Negroni or the subtlest Alexander. To achieve this, they have to stray from the classic recipes and bring in elements from elsewhere. The most common way they do this is by using different cocktail bitters.
Bitters are an essential part of cocktail-making. They are made from aromatic spices and other plant extracts, in alcohol, and are used in very small quantities. The most famous is Angostura, famous for giving the pink gin its characteristic spicy aroma and burnt-orange hue. Since the cocktail boom of the 2000s, many varieties of bitters have become widely available, including new ones and some reviving old recipes.
|Pink Gin: the officers' favourite|
The taste of mint is surprisingly sympathetic to citrus fruit, and you can use it to bring its characteristic freshness to all manner of drinks. Just one dash will give a White Lady quite a lift - perfect for summer garden parties. It will bring that same cool breath to a Greyhound or Salty Dog and is a startlingly good addition to an Old Fashioned in the summer.
Oh, and never give away the secret of your "magic."