Paintings and inspired sips piqued guests’ eyes and palates at this annual event.
Last Friday, art-loving imbibers flocked to The Cocoran Gallery for its annual evening of paintings, cocktails and dancing. Presented by the gallery’s 1869 Society, the gala is a culmination of a month-long celebration in which area mixologists compete to see who has the best cocktail inspired by a work of art. All month long, visitors to the restaurants and bars that are homes to the eight bartenders were invited to sample the cocktails, and view the works from the collection that inspired them.
I was excited to have been asked to help judge the event. With me on the judging panel were Chef Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray of Todd Gray’s Muse at the Corcoran, Svetlana Legetic of Brightest Young Things, Anna Spiegel and Jessica Voelker of Washingtonian Magazine, Gina Chersevani with Eddy Bar at Hank’s Oyster Bar and Buffalo & Bergen, and Sarah Newman, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Corcoran.
Frank Jones of The Gibson took top honors with his cocktail “A Moor’s Code.” Inspired by Henri Regnault’s painting “Head of a Moor”, Jones was stirred to create a drink that incorporates the story of the Moors, residents of North Africa who migrated to Spain. He noted that both spices and oranges are ubiquitous in North Africa, and his winning libation incorporates both. For it, Jones mixes FEW Whiskey from Chicago, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, and Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters. The tipple is topped with Fever Tree tonic, and garnished with its most striking element: a traditional horse’s neck citrus peel. Jones peeled an entire orange, keeping the peel intact, and then wrapped it back around to look like an orange before putting it back in the glass. A Moor’s Code was an overwhelming favorite with the judges: complex and balanced, with a touch of sweetness, bitterness and baking spices from the Allspice Dram. Oh, and not only was Jones’ drink inspired by the painting; the bartender himself was dressed in a long red velvet makeshift tunic.
Here is his winning recipe:
A Moor’s Code
Courtesy of Frank Jones, The Gibson, Washington, D.C.
1 ½ oz. FEW Whiskey
1 oz. Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
½ oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
2 dashes Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters
Horse’s neck orange peel, for garnish.
Add whiskey, blood orange liqueur, Allspice Dram and bitters to a rocks or tall glass. Stir, add ice and gently add horse’s neck garnish. Top with tonic.
A special award was given to mixologist Josh Berner of Zentan for Best Garnish. Berner’s cocktail “Yourself Nor the Baby” was inspired by both a recent trip, and Eugene Carriere’s painting “Arsene Carriere”—Berner told me everyone has been referring to this piece of art as “the creepy baby painting.” Last year, he shared a car with a mother and a three month old baby during a visit to Mexico. The mother noted how calm and patient Berner was, commenting how “You haven’t thrown yourself nor the baby out of the car yet.” Hence, the drink name was born. Berner combines two house-made syrups, one made from habanero, and the other from mint and epazote, a pungent, medicinal tasting Mexican herb, with Tequila Real Blanco and that baby food staple, mango puree. To replicate the bright red splotches on the baby’s shoes—a splash of color on an otherwise neutral toned painting—he garnishes the sip with bright green mint oil (the mango also provides a striking orange hue), and a “rattle” / lollipop made from epazote. I loved how Berner really tied in the elements of the painting, and his own inspiration, into this drink.
Finally, P.O.V. Mixologist Joe Ambrose took the people’s choice award for his drink “First Impressions,” inspired by Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “View From Cap Martin of Monte Carlo.” Fans voted for their favorite drink via a poll on Washingtonian’s website—this is the second year in a row that P.O.V. has won.
Other participating ARTINI mixologists were Eddie Kim from Daikaya, Taha Ismail from Bandolero, Alex Bookless from The Passenger, Amy Russell from Jack Rose Dining Saloon and Milton Hernandez from Ambar. Guests of ARTINI had the chance to sample all eight drinks, as well as nosh on sliders, candied bacon and cake pops, and sway to the music of the B&B Jazz Trio, and alive and able.