All classic cocktails owe their longevity to stories that amplify their heady appeal, often rooted in multiple claims of origin and ownership that evoke mystery and mastery. 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 must play harmoniously like wind, string, brass and percussion, without any one instrument or ingredient dominating.
The first-century Roman gourmand Apicius coined the ever-so-pronounced phrase “First we eat with our eyes,” and the same goes for the art of the cocktail.
. Glass and garnish selection is an essential component of presentation as mixologists compete to create concoctions that look as good as they taste.
a new book, COCKTAILS, A NATURE WINERY, guides us on a visual search for the best elixirs, pairing them with custom backstories. Todd M. Casey’s meticulous still life paintings illustrate animated stories curated by Christine Sismondo and James Waller.
The compact yet comprehensive hardback offers 60 of Casey’s paintings along with recipes that will captivate your senses and inform your cocktail party banter, on sale from Running Press for $24.
Many of the images in the book are available as original paintings at Rehs Contemporary in New York, which showed Casey’s work on a variety of subjects, including his heady depictions of indulgent drinks, in a 2020 solo exhibition titled The art of still life.
Some people may order an applejack sour or order a sweeter twist on the sidecar, both variants of the Jack Rose.
The cocktail gained prominence when Jake Barnes, the narrator of Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, sipped a Jack Rose at the bar of the Crillon Paris Hotel while waiting for Lady Brett Ashley. Writer John Steinbeck also liked the Jack Rose, which saw a resurgence in New York City cocktail bars and restaurants in the early 1990s as hipsters first embraced applejack (which became can substitute for brandy and cognac in many cocktails).
Sismondo and Waller credit a Wall Street bar with inventing the Jack Rose around 1900 and turning baseball around.
Casey, who infuses many still life paintings with literary references, depicts the sumptuous rosé cocktail garnished with a twist of corkscrew lemon, tempting us on an ornate plate, its stem reflected in the open metal shaker. Our eye is drawn to the contrasting green lemon leaf and the composition on a background of richly textured brush strokes.
Casey uses cut crystal rocks glass to highlight the exquisite color of penicillin, giving the medicinal elixir an elegant feel. A selection of cocktails with shiny metal bulbs pierce 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 juice of fresh lemon.
Sismondo and Waller compare penicillin to a cold Hot Toddy, another popular home remedy.
Whole, halved and sliced oranges appear against the lush blue background, the ruby focal point focusing our gaze. Casey playfully plants a red-and-white-striped straw on top of an orange leaf and in front of the Aperol Spritz, adorned with what looks like a sprig of mint that draws our gaze to the sliced orange reflected in the glass .
What now seems like a simple popular brunch and poolside drink requires some skill to pour, 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 fancy cocktail bars. Traverse history from Prohibition Detroit to contemporary Seattle, take the Last Word and travel on Paper Plane to New York City’s Lower East Side, a worldly destination for cocktail culture enthusiasts to mingle effortless soul and glamour. Casey’s images are timeless and recipes are fungible, thanks to decades of bartender rivalry and fluctuating social fancies.