I've tried searching for a lot of this info, but any combination of those words brings up just too many various threads to be of any use...
I'm fairly new to making cocktails at home. I've always enjoyed mixed drinks at restaurants/bars, but I've always felt that they were more trouble than they were worth at home. I pretty much just stuck with basic "mixed drinks" that I got started on in college (rum and coke, gin and sprite, etc...) or sipping things neat / on the rocks. I'm getting away from that now, because I am finally starting to get to a point in my life that I have more money available, and can explore items not on the bottom shelf in my liquor store. I want to be able to enjoy them in more diverse ways at home, not just when out.
I'm starting to build a modest home bar, albeit somewhat limited. (There are only two of us, and my SO rarely drinks anything other than beer or wine.) Because I've been reading so much on CH, I have more advanced knowledge than some people just starting to get into home drink making; I know the difference between a cocktail and a sling (even though we rarely use them correctly), the difference between a real martini and everything else served in a cocktail glass, that a true daiquiri does not contain a neon-colored mixer, etc... But I still am befuddled when it comes to many techniques, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with some ingredients, and how to proceed in my experimenting.
So, my biggest question is, what is the difference between shaking and stiring a drink? Not as in how to do so, but why? I always assumed that the shaking was for things you wanted colder than stirring, but I saw another post (probably in the martini thread) that mentioned stirring a martini to keep it velvety smooth. So, clearly there's more to it than just temperature. What is the rationale behind each method?
Also, what can I do with Peychaud's bitters? When I saw them in my local store, I picked them up because I've seen them discussed here. I know I can make a Sazerac, but I don't have absinthe, and I'm not that fond of it. I suppose I might enjoy one but I'm not sure I want to shell out the money for a bottle of something I don't like until I try it elsewhere first. I've used the Peychaud's in an Old Fashioned at home, but I feel like I should do something else to explore them. Ideas?
What other advice do any of you have for someone who is just beginning to explore cocktail crafting at home? Should I just get a bar book and jump in?