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Creative Cocktails Inspired by Historical Art Movements

Libations

Carrie Dennis | November 16, 2018
From Impressionism to Cubism, these creative mixologists have crafted cocktails that are veritable works of art.

“Inspiration” takes many forms. In the case of the cocktails below, our six bartenders chose an art movement that spoke to them, whether it was through a historic, aesthetic, or thematic lens. They then created a cocktail, allowing the ingredients, garnishes, and glasses to evoke the artistic philosophy they love most. From ancient Rome all the way through to modern-day Bristol (where Banksy is believed to hail from), these cocktails are as open to interpretation as the artistry that influenced them.

Romanesque Art

Eduard Balan, a 26-year-old Italian bar manager in London, was inspired by Romanesque art of the 12th century as well as the drinking habits of that time. Grapes were wild back then, rather than the hybrids we have today, so to make wine more palatable, the Romans added honey, water, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Mulsum Wine, as it was called, was probably the first alcoholic beverage that the Romans served at parties.

Imperatoria Aperitif

2 parts Fernet-Branca
5 parts Mulsum Wine
5 pars rose liqueur
5 gin-infused black olives

Stir and serve in a Nick & Nora glass, garnished with a black olive.

Netherlandish Painting

Still-life, or the depiction of inanimate objects, is not an art movement in and of itself, but it is a distinct genre with origins in Ancient Greco-Roman art. It became a truly important classification around the 16th century, when Netherlandish Renaissance painters popularized the style with their floral arrangements. Melisa Lapido, a veteran bartender who’s been slinging drinks for 15 years, is especially drawn to the style. Something as simple as flowers can evoke a wide range of emotions depending on the arrangement. It’s an ethos that she applies to her cocktail-making process: “I just let the ingredients inspire me and the creativity flow through my soul,” she says. “Mixology gives me a way to express myself. It’s an art!”

Rise & Grind

¼ part Fernet-Branca
1½ parts rye
¼ part cola syrup
1½  part cold-brew coffee
2 dashes vanilla bitters
2 dashes black walnut bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir, strain, and pour over fresh ice.

Impressionism

Nineteenth-century French Impressionism sought to evoke a feeling or a moment. The movement is characterized by expressive brushstrokes that capture the light and color of an experience as opposed to a photorealistic representation. This ephemeral quality inspires many of Natalie Migliarini’s cocktails. “I thought [Impressionism] would work well with the common ‘drinkable moment’ depicted in a lot of my work,” she says. As for her garnishes, Migliarini loves choosing something thematic or seasonal — but always lovely. “Gold or edible flowers are always the obvious choice because of their beauty,” she says.

Salty Dog Sour

2 parts vodka
1 part grapefruit juice
¾ part winter citrus syrup
1 egg white
a pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake hard to chill and combine ingredients. Strain out ice. Shake hard again to further emulsify, then fine-strain into a cocktail glass. 

Art Nouveau

Elegant yet playful, Art Nouveau is technically a design rather than an art movement; nonetheless, its aesthetic is perfectly transferable to cocktails. Plus it came about during a time when libations were first being taken seriously as an art themselves. Pair that with the movement’s floral motifs — a reaction to the dry, academic art of the 19th century — and it’s easy to see why the movement inspired Katie of @garnish_girl to create her “Glass Garden” cocktail. A scientist by training, Katie has always been enchanted by both the history and the craft of cocktails. “I love that with certain recipes, we can make drinks that taste almost exactly the same as they did a hundred years ago. It’s a wonderful connection to the past.”

She incorporated history and craft into her latest drink. “Cognac and champagne are a nod to France, where Art Nouveau really bloomed,” she says. “The glassware and garnish are meant to recall the swirling, organic forms that are typical to the movement, while the apricot liqueur and nasturtium syrup bring in fruity and floral notes—just as the artists included inspiration from the natural world in their work.”

Glass Garden

1½ part cognac
½ part apricot liqueur
½ part lemon juice
¼ part nasturtium syrup*
dash orange bitters
champagne, to top

*For the nasturtium syrup, combine½ cup sugar and½ cup water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add a handful of nasturtium blossoms. Stir and let sit for 30 minutes. Transfer to a jar and allow the syrup to infuse in the refrigerator for 3–4 hours, then strain.

Combine all ingredients except champagne in a shaker with ice; shake until chilled. Strain into a champagne flute and top with champagne. Garnish with a nasturtium flower.

Cubism

Cubism paintings, much like Virginia-based bartender Aragorn Rahm’s Cubism-inspired cocktail, are greater than the sum of their parts. The early-20th-century art movement is characterized by deconstructed subjects that play with perspective and abstraction, giving the illusion of a three-dimensional form. Each ingredient in Rahm’s take on a classic Negroni brings a distinct flavor angle, a nuance, and when it’s considered all together, it takes on a whole new interpretation.  

Don’t Be a Square

½ part Fernet-Branca
½ part sweet Antica Formula
½ part gin
½ part cherry syrup
garnish w orange peel

Combine all ingredients in a rocks glass, add ice and garnish.

Street Art

Inspired by his own British heritage, Hawaiian mixologist Andrew Woodley created this take on a classic “Clover Club,” drawing inspiration from prolific and infamous 21st-century British street-artist Banksy. Seth Weinberg, a bartender from Miami, made Andrew’s recipe for this photo, garnishing it with a “Balloon Girl” design printed on rice paper with edible ink.

“Garnishing is mostly a two-step process,” says Weinberg. “It should be a part of the cocktail for flavor, aroma, or texture, but should also have a visual benefit of height or color variation. I lean toward garnishes that are simple and functional with a little flair. It’s exciting when the garnish brings a drink together and pushes it from good to great.”

Clover Club Recipe:

2 parts gin
¾ part raspberry syrup
¾ part lemon juice
¼ part dry vermouth
1 part egg whites

Combine all ingredients in a shaker without ice. Wrap a towel around the shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Open the shaker, add ice, and shake for another 30 seconds. Double-strain into a coupe glass.

To make the design, place a paper stencil on top of the drink, fill a spray-mister with vermouth, mist it on top of the stencil, and then gently remove.

Carrie Dennis is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.

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