All classic cocktails owe their longevity to stories that enhance their heady appeal, often rooted in multiple claims of origin and ownership that evoke mystery and craftsmanship. A well-balanced cocktail is like a symphony of spirits, sugar, water and bitters (inclusion or omission of elements to suit individual tastes). Each flavor should play harmoniously as brass, strings, brass and percussion without any one instrument or ingredient dominating.
The first-century Roman foodie Apicius coined the oft-quoted phrase “We eat with our eyes first,” and the same goes for the art of the cocktail
. The choice of glass and garnish is a major component of performance as mixologists compete to create concoctions that look as good as they taste.
new book, COCKTAILS, STILL LIFE, guides us on a visual search for the best elixirs, pairing them with a bespoke backstory. Todd M. Casey’s meticulous still-life paintings illustrate lively tales curated by Christine Sismondo and James Waller.
The compact yet comprehensive hardcover offers 60 of Casey’s paintings along with recipes that will tantalize your senses and inform your cocktail party banter, on sale at Running Press for $24.
Many of the images in the book are available as original paintings at Rehs Contemporary in New York, which showcased Casey’s work on a variety of subjects, including his heady depictions of drinks for indulgence, in a 2020 solo show titled The art of still life.
Some people may order a sour apple jack or ask for a sweeter twist on the basket, both variants of the Jack Rose.
The cocktail became famous when Jake Barnes, the narrator in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, drank a Jack Rose in the bar of the Crillon Paris Hotel while waiting on Lady Brett Ashley. Writer John Steinbeck also liked the Jack Rose, which experienced a revival in New York cocktail bars and restaurants in the early years when hipsters embraced Applejack (which could be substituted for brandy and cognac in many cocktails) for the first time.
Sismondo and Waller credit a Wall Street bar with inventing the Jack Rose around 1900 and making a baseball spin.
Casey, who infuses many still life paintings with literary references, depicts the gorgeous pink cocktail topped with a corkscrew, a lemon twist, tempting us in an ornate saucer glass, the handle of which is reflected in the open metal shaker. Our eye is drawn to the contrasting green lemon leaves and around the composition against the background of richly textured strokes.
Casey uses cut crystal glass to highlight the exquisite color of the penicillin, giving the healing elixir an elegant feel. A gleaming cocktail pick with a metal bulb pierces a piece of fresh ginger, while smaller pieces frame the glass, rest on a white napkin, and self-refer to Casey’s ubiquitous citrus leaves and reinforce the need for fresh lemon juice.
Sismondo and Waller liken penicillin to a chilled Hot Toddy, another popular self-medication drug.
Whole, halved and sliced oranges pop against the lush blue background, the ruby focal point centering our gaze. Casey playfully plants a red-and-white-striped straw on top of an orange leaf and in front of an Aperol Spritz topped with what appears to be a sprig of mint, directing our gaze to the cut orange reflected in the glass.
What now seems like a simple popular brunch and poolside drink requires some pouring skills, advise Sismondo and Waller.
A book for all seasons, you’ll learn new myths about old favorites and rediscover one-time classics that reappear decades later in chic cocktail clubs. Travel through history from prohibition Detroit to modern Seattle, sipping Last Word and take a paper airplane ride to New York’s Lower East Side, a worldly destination for cocktail culture enthusiasts where grit and glitz blend seamlessly. Casey’s images are timeless and recipes are interchangeable, thanks to decades of bartender rivalry and shifting social biases.