Indulge In The Fine Art Of Cocktails With Todd M. Casey’s Meticulous Still-Life Paintings Paired With Recipes And Anecdotes

All classic cocktails owe their longevity to stories that amplify their intoxicating 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 catering to individual tastes). Each flavor must play harmoniously like wind, string, brass and percussion, with no single instrument or ingredient dominating.

First Century Roman gourmand Apicius coined the oft-uttered phrase “We eat first with our eyes”, and the same applies to the art of the cocktail

. Selecting the glass and garnish is an essential component to presentation, as mixologists compete to create concoctions that look as good as they taste.

A new book, COCKTAILS, A STILL LIFE, guides us on a visual quest for the best elixirs, pairing them with bespoke backstories. The meticulous still-life paintings of Todd M. Casey illustrate spirited tales curated by Christine Sismondo and James Waller.

The compact yet comprehensive hardcover serves up 60 paintings by Casey alongside recipes that will entice 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 across subjects, including his intoxicating depictions of indulgent drinks, in a 2020 solo show titled The Art of Still Life.

Some folks may order an applejack sour, or request a sweeter twist on the sidecar, both variants of the Jack Rose.

The cocktail rose to prominence when Jake Barnes, the narrator in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises drank a Jack Rose in the Crillon Paris hotel bar while waiting for Lady Brett Ashley. Writer John Steinbeck also fancied the Jack Rose, which experienced a resurgence in New York City cocktails bars and restaurants in the early aughts, as hipsters embraced applejack (which can 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 throw in a baseball spin.

Casey, who infuses many still-life paintings with literary references, depicts the sumptuous rosy cocktail garnished with a corkscrew lemon twist, temping us in an embellished saucer glass, its stem reflecting in the open metal shaker. Our eye is drawn to the contrasting green lemon leaf, and around the composition against a background of richly textured brushstrokes.

Casey uses a cut crystal rocks glass to highlight the exquisite color of Penicillin, giving the medicinal elixir an elegant feel. A shiny metal bulbed cocktail pick pierces a chunk of fresh ginger, as smaller pieces frame the glass, resting on a white napkin and self-referencing Casey’s ubiquitous citrus leaves and reinforcing the need for fresh lemon juice.

Sismondo and Waller liken Penicillin to a chilled Hot Toddy, another popular self-remedy.

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 the Aperol Spritz, garnished with what appears to be a sprig mint that leads our eye to the cut orange reflected in the glass.

What now seems like a simple popular brunch and poolside drink requires some skill to pour, Sismondo and Waller advise.

A book for all seasons, you’ll learn new myths about old favorites and re-discover one-time classics that re-appear decades later at chic cocktail clubs. Traverse history from Prohibition Detroit to contemporary Seattle, sipping the Last Word, and journey by Paper Plane to New York City’s Lower East Side, a worldly destination for cocktail culture enthusiasts where grit and glam effortlessly mingle. Casey’s images are timeless and the recipes are fungible, thanks to decades of rivalry among bartenders and fluctuating social fancies.

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