The ability to mix a good cocktail can seem like a talent given only to a chosen few, like being fluent in several languages or juggling blenders. But actually, you just need to follow a few simple rules to produce a decent, if not excellent, drink for you and your guests. Notable food writer Mark Bittman has just four rules, and twelve simple cocktails, as noted in yesterday's New York Times.• Keep it simple. Stock your bar with a few favorite bottles, bitters, sweet vermouth, Triple Sec, simple syrup and sodas. Then the only thing you need is some fruit (lemon, lime) and some herbs and you're set.
• Keep keeping it simple. You don't need a lot of fancy barware, but a shaker and strainer will probably come in handy.
• Taste is Important. Be sure to purchase good-tasting booze, which isn't always the most expensive.
• Make it a stiff one. Pour around a quarter cup of booze into each drink, or about 1/3 more than usual. You want to be able to taste the liquor in your cocktail.