Don't waste your best booze on a below-average cocktail.
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You've stocked your bar cart, polished your favorite glasses, and have fresh garnishes ready to go. But before you start making cocktails, you want to ensure you're making them right. We've enlisted the help of mixologist Patrick Pistolesi of NIO Cocktails to share the most common cocktail mistakes - and easy solutions. Keep these dos and don'ts in mind for the best homemade cocktails you've ever sipped.

1. You use regular ice.

No one wants a watery cocktail. The smaller the ice, the quicker it will melt and dilute your drink. Invest in a large silicone ice cube tray and, for even better results, fill it with boiling water before you freeze it. "This will remove air from the water resulting in maximum chill," Pistolesi says.

2. You stir or shake when you shouldn't.

If your cocktail just contains liquor and bitters, stir it. If it includes mixers like fruit juices, egg, dairy, or cream liqueurs, you need to shake it to ensure that the ingredients don't separate. Not only that, shaking the drink with ice dilutes it a little - which seems contrary to our first point, but it helps the ingredients blend together. It's also worth noting that shaking adds air to the cocktail (why drinks with eggs turn out foamy, for example). Strain a drink after shaking, then add your cubed ice.

hand holding a strawberry lime cocktail in a short glass with strawberries and limes on a cutting board
Credit: Allrecipes Magazine

3. You skip the bitters.

Derived from botanicals like fruit, flowers, or bark, bitters give cocktails more dimension and "a professional edge," as Pistolesi puts it. "Get creative and add a dash here and there but be careful not to overdo it."

4. Your spirits expired.

Once opened, your bitters and bottles of vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, and rum can expire. Check the date on the bottle to avoid ruining your drink.

5. You don't muddle.

When your cocktail includes fruit and herbs, press them with a muddler to release their flavors. You'll want to gently muddle leaves and herbs, but fruits and rinds need more pressure.

mimosas with orange and pineapple garnishes in short glasses
Credit: Allrecipes Magazine

6. You skimp on equipment.

Take it from Pistolesi: "If you enjoy mixology, it's worth buying the right equipment. There are some great kits available online that come with a cocktail shaker, strainer, bar spoon, muddler, and a jigger, an hour glass-shaped measuring cup that ensures the perfect balance of ingredients every time."

7. You serve it in a room-temperature glass.

"The colder your cocktail is, the better it tastes," says Pistolesi, who recommends letting your glassware sit in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before you pour your drink. And for extra chill factor, you can keep spirits that have over 40 ABV in the freezer, he says.

8. You serve it without a garnish.

You may not want to spend extra bucks on a garnish if you're making a cocktail for yourself. But there's more to garnishing glasses than presentation, Pistolesi says. "It also adds flavor and aroma to the cocktail. The general rule of citrus includes wedges, wheels, twists, and peels. Adding fresh berries, spice sticks, and herb springs are the true hallmarks of high-end cocktails," he says.

9. Your food and drink don't pair well.

Finally, your food can mess with your cocktail's flavor. Pistolesi recommends pairing whiskey with seafood, meat, and cheese; rum with Caribbean-inspired chicken or fish as well as bananas; vodka with cured meats and salads; and gin with lighter foods like smoked salmon and nuts.