ARTINI 2012 is underway!
Twelve** Eleven talented bartenders have created cocktails inspired by works in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Every Friday the We Love DC drinks team will wrap up the week’s feature nights with reviews of each artini entry, to culminate at the gala on March 31st. We kicked off Week One last Friday; let’s see what Week Two had at the bar.
ARTINI 4: Jon Arroyo, Founding Farmers
Inspiration: Behind Every Good Man, Nina Chanel Abney, 2010, acrylic on canvas
What kind of beverage can be inspired by one of the hottest young American artists, Nina Chanel Abney? Abney was named to Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30″ this year, and her work starred in the Corcoran’s “30 Americans” exhibit this past autumn. Abney’s Behind Every Good Man depicts her characteristic mask-like facial imagery and buzz of sexual energy, creating an unsettling scene, where one look captures both terror and resignation.
Similarly, Jon Arroyo’s libation creation The Walking Dead contrasts light and dark rum to shock the palate and ignite a response from intense citrus and alcohol flavors. The face in the painting reminded Arroyo of a zombie, so he chose to do a variation of the classic tiki drink, The Zombie.
Now I’m not generally much of a tiki drink lover, and the sharp citrus of grapefruit and lime juices are very pronounced upon first sip. “You’re supposed to let the ice melt a bit, and the flavors will balance,” Arroyo tells me. And he’s right — 15 minutes of watching ice levels fall reward me with a softer beverage rounded out by tiki bitters and hibiscus. Delightfully tart & sweet hibiscus-absinthe jelly candies perch on a stir-stick as a garnish.
Like the artwork, it’s an intense first impression that rewards the patient drinker with balance in the end.
ARTINI 5: Ronald Flores for Art and Soul
Inspiration: Aaron Douglas, Into Bondage, 1936, oil on canvas
Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas’ 1936 painting Into Bondage is not easy to view. Shackled slaves raise arms in despair as the ships come in to take them away, against the backdrop of the land they unwillingly leave behind. But one man stands tall even on the auction block, staring at a star that bathes him in light. It’s an emotional painting of great beauty, sorrow and hope.
But a cocktail? That’s a challenge, and luckily Ronald Flores gets it. Last year’s ARTINI winner, he has a great artistic sensitivity in his approach, and his drink The Zeitgeist manages to honor the painting’s meaning without going overboard. Mount Gay rum is infused with rooibos tea and finished off with molasses and blood orange. The initial taste is nicely tart and sour, while after a few more sips the rooibos tea comes through giving it a beautiful depth. It’s served on the rocks but not overly iced. The strong colors of the painting are present in the look of the cocktail, with the deep red of the blood orange and rooibos complementing a green banana leaf garnish. A sugar cane completes the homage to colonial history, causing reflection as well as visual interest.
It’s a drink as complex as the painting it was inspired by. That’s a proper artini.
ARTINI 6: Frank Jones for The Gibson
Inspiration: Giuseppe Croff, The Veiled Nun, c. 1860, marble
Frank Jones’ Silk Veil took its inspiration from The Veiled Nun, a marble sculpture by Giuseppe Croff. It’s a deceptively smooth cocktail made with Herradura silver tequila, aquavit, Dimmi, lemon juice, egg white, and simple syrup, which is then stenciled with misted Peychaud’s bitters and carefully trimmed with fresh blackberry syrup. Got all that? Ready to make it at home? Yeah, me neither.
The egg white gives the drink its veil in its smooth texture, but the blackberry syrup seems to have no counterpart in the artwork. As ARTINI is about inspiration and not just channeling the artworks, though, this may work to Frank’s advantage. My only worry for this cocktail is that it will be difficult to crank out a few hundred of them in one night (the stencil and syrup trim were time consuming) and I fear attendees of the big event won’t have quite the same experience I did.
**3/27 UPDATE: AGAINN DC is no longer competing in ARTINI.