Basil Maiden

What you need:

1 ounce Gin

1 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce orange juice

fresh basil leaves

ice

Directions: pour ingredients into a shaker and shake vigorously. Strain twice and pour into martini glass.

Source: Ryan Arndt, bar manager at Boulder's Salt the Bistro.

The perfect cocktail is not about how much you're paying, or even the liquor that's used. Instead, it's about the blending of flavors in perfect harmony, said Ryan Arndt, bar manager at Boulder's Salt the Bistro, 1047 Pearl St.

"A lot of people will have drinks made and they won't taste right to them because they'll be too bitter or too sweet," Arndt said, "or they'll be just out of whack or out of harmony.

"Even if you don't like certain flavors in a drink, you can appreciate a well-balanced cocktail whether those flavors appeal to you or not."

Even a novice can become a mixologist with a little practice, Arndt said.

He recommends starting simple by purchasing a few liquors and mixers like vodka, gin, rum, tequila, bourbon, scotch and bitters as must-haves for a beginner's skeleton bar.

In order to save some cash, Arndt recommends purchasing cheaper versions of vodka and rum, flavors that are often hidden by mixers and less noticeable. Gin, bourbon and scotch are stronger flavors, so splurge on quality bottles for smooth cocktails, he said.


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Complete the collection with lemon, lime and orange juices as well as soda water and citrus soda for mixing.

Once you're ready to start experimenting, Arndt said a good rule-of-thumb mixture is 1 1/2 ounces of liquor, 1 ounce of sugar and 1 ounce of bitters for a balance of sweet and bitter.

A simple sangria gives beginners variety when learning to mix flavors, Arndt said. Pick out a favorite wine -- red, white or sparkling -- and add juice that boasts a similar flavor. Pour in brandy or rum for a kick -- and if you're feeling creative, find a bag of tea leaves to add an extra element of "yum."

Arndt said skilled mixers can step up the game by adding beer or herbs to elevate flavors.

Arndt said dark beers have caramel tones that are easy to blend, whereas wheat beers lend citrus flavors that are common in many cocktails.

When in doubt, Arndt said stick with similar flavors that compliment one other before venturing into unknown territory.

Fresh herbs like basil, mint, thyme and rosemary add quality to you're a beverage. Splurge for mint leaves in a mojito, rather than buying the infused booze from the store, he said.

"Fresh ingredients always make it taste better," Arndt said.

Though Arndt recommends ditching flavored liquors, he said they can provide new ideas to try at home.

Ryan Arndt of Salt in Boulder makes a Basil Maiden.Paul Aiken / Colorado Daily
Ryan Arndt of Salt in Boulder makes a Basil Maiden. Paul Aiken / Colorado Daily ( Paul Aiken )

Hit up some spots from Yelp's list of Denver's Masters of Mixology to get some inspiration once you've mastered the basics.

After nearly a decade of bartending, Arndt said finding new flavor combinations remains his biggest challenge.

"We take a lot of cues from the kitchen," he said. "We're basically cooking behind the bar with different ingredients."

-- Follow Whitney Bryen on Twitter: @SoonerReporter.