I'd like to talk about my two favorite cocktails: martinis and Manhattans.
First of all, the long and short of cocktails:
Short drinks are cocktails made primarily from spirits and use very minute (if any mixers), so martinis and Manhattans.
Long drinks are cocktails that use mixers as primary flavor, so screwdrivers and bloody Mary's.
Martinis are short drinks made primarily from gin, mixed with vermouth and served in a martini glass. (Vodka may also be used, but this is a "vodka martini," not a "martini.")
To start with a 3:1 ratio is a decent place to start with the mixture of gin and vermouth. You pour the mixture into a mixture filled with ice and stir it until it's cold (slowly for about 30 seconds), then strain it into a Martin glass, add one or three olives, and enjoy.
Do not shake your martini... It increases air flow to the gin and "bruises" it (basically sharpens the flavor by releasing molecules, it can make your martini too cloudy and too junipery). The reason James Bond wants his, "shaken, not stirred," is because he orders a Vodka martin (vodka doesn't have infused flavors, so it won't "bruise" like gin).
A manhattan is similar to a martini but uses sweet vermouth instead of regular (white or dry) vermouth and bourbon in place of gin. The mixing ratio is the same (it won't bruise, but I still prefer them stirred) and garnish with a maraschino cherry instead of an olive. They are also served in a rocks glass and can be served "on the rocks."
These cocktails are most definitely and squired taste that requires tenacity and experimentation (gin tastes like a pine tree, so it takes a while to learn to appreciate subtle differences). Some variations you may want to try:
Dry: less vermouth ratio than the normal recipe (I've heard stories about bartenders pouring a single drop into an empty glass an letting it evaporate before filling with stirred gin). A dry manhattan is served using regular vermouth instead of sweet (adjust the ratio from there).
Wet: more vermouth than normal (gross, in my opinion... Vermouth is rotten, infused white or red wine)
Dirty: mix some olive juice into the ratio before stirring.
Gibson: uses two pearl onions in place of the one or three olives.
My suggestion on alcohols is as follows:
Vermouth: Martini and Rossi
Gin: Hendricks or Tanguery 10
Bourbon: Maker's Mark
What do you think?