Media reviews: Mixology made easy

The street was mobbed with people attending a huge outdoor chowder fest along the shore of the Hudson River in Troy, NY. 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 River Street brick building on the east bank.

What better sort of place to find some 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 missing 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 celebrating 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, caterer extraordinaire and author of several cookbooks and numerous cuisine magazine articles, has come up with "The Backyard Bartender: 55 Cool Summer Cocktails'' (Clarkson Potter Publishers, $16.95), a particularly 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 techniques 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 collection of non-alcoholic cocktail recipes.

Each recipe lists not only ingredients 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 finished 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'Malley Productions, starring celebrity bartender -- "mixologist,'' as they prefer to be called these days -- Tony Abou-Ganim (left).

"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 fellow 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 constitutes 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.

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