Cocktails are a classic drink for those who like to mix booze and other ingredients. A paper umbrella with a twist of lime is not a cocktail (and they aren’t cocktails at all). You need to know what ingredients are used, the history and how they’re made in order to truly understand cocktails.
The first time a cocktail was mentioned in print, it appeared in The Balance and Columbian Repository in Hudson, New York in 1806. It described the drink as “a stimulating spirit composed of any liquor, sugar, and water.” The term may have come from a French word for an eggcup, coquetel. Another theory states that Antoine Amedee Peychaud in New Orleans combined his Bitters to a stomach remedy, which was served as a coquetel. The customers then mispronounced this name and called it a cocktail.
It is the base that makes up a cocktail. This can be gin, vodka, whiskey or rum. The moderators, like citrus juices, fortified wines and liqueurs add flavor and hold the drink. Finaly, a perfume, such as bitters, fruit, coffee or syrups, refines and intensifies the flavor of the drink.
The best way to learn about cocktails is by tasting them. It is only then that you will understand the special features of each cocktail, their origin, and what makes some better than others. You can find many books to improve your bartending and create drinks as good as those at the best cocktail bars.