The street was mobbed with people attending a huge chowder fest in downtown Troy, N.Y. I was there to help judge the competition, but it still was too early and the sun was getting a bit too much for me. So, I ducked into Ryan's Wake, a dark, cool tavern housed in a historic brick building on the east bank of the Hudson River.
What better sort of place to find some temporary shade and a cooling drink at the same time? I ordered a gin-and-tonic, which I've always found a wonderful hot weather companion, with the herbals of the gin and the pleasing tartness of the tonic water sending waves of refreshment over the palate and anywhere else they happened to wander.
But, I thought, something was missing here. Not the bartendress's fault. I got what I had ordered. But I must have been feeling jaded because I wanted something with more complexity while still celebrating the summer season.
That's when I went home and found the missing ingredient — a book I'd just received for a possible review. Author Nicole Aloni, caterer extraordinaire and author of several cookbooks and numerous cuisine magazine articles, has come up with "The Backyard Bartender: 55 Cool Summer Cocktails" (Clarkson Potter Publishers, $16.95), a particularly interesting title this time of year and well into the autumn.
This is a perfect guide to warm-weather seasonal cocktails both for home and for bars and restaurants. It's got eye appeal, is organized for ease of reading, and contains much more than just the promised 55 recipes.
Aloni has created a fine guide for novice bartenders, chock full of instructions for setting up your home bar — from "The Basic Mixology Bar" to "The Mixologist's Dream Bar" — a glossary of cocktail terms, drink-making techniques ranging from the simplest (how to chill a glass) to the slightly more difficult (how to blend a drink), explanations of the various mixology tools, and even a collection of non-alcoholic cocktail recipes.
Each recipe lists not only ingredients and prep steps, but a succinct introductory note plus what type of glass to use, and what is needed for a garnish or a rim dressing.
Colleen Duffley's accompanying photographs help bring the finished drinks to life, as well as providing a visual yardstick to what your finished cocktails should look like.
Despite its title, this is a book for all seasons.
However, if you prefer to be visually led step by step rather than actually having to read, I'd recommend "Modern Mixology: Making Great Cocktails at Home: Vol. 1" ($19.95). It's a video from O'Malley Productions, starring celebrity bartender — "mixologist," as they prefer to be called these days — Tony Abou- Ganim.
"Enjoying a fine cocktail is about the journey, not the destination. Drink in moderation," Abou-Ganim tells his viewers. He then goes on to walk them through the basic bar tools and techniques, and makes 20 different cocktails — some of them classics, some of them modern inventions.
Abou-Ganim is a personable fellow who comes across on video as a mixologist who really likes what he does and wants everyone else to join in the fun.
The only drawback to the disc comes if you watch it at one sitting. Since each cocktail constitutes a separate lesson, you'll get some of the same instructions — such as how to properly use a cocktail shaker — over and over again. And, hearing some of Abou-Ganim's catch phrases 20 times in a row can be a bit much.
Those small quibbles aside, this is a video well worth putting in your entertainment collection.
(William M. Dowd covers the beverage field at BillDowd.com)
(c) 2007 Hearst Newspapers