Cocktails Inspired by Vintage Advertising
Before TV commercials and web banners, posters were a vital form of advertisement. Moreover, they were works of art that showcased the best designers and artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Food and beverages were popular subjects, and such posters are now sought-after collectors’ items.
Jack Rennert, owner and president of New York City auction house Poster Auctions International, connects a boom of Europe’s liquor posters in the late 1800s in part to the rise of the Temperance movement: Liqueurs characterized as “medicinal,” like bitter aperitifs or herb-laden liqueurs, were best positioned to survive the Temperance mood, but the trick was figuring out how to advertise something that sounded so austere.
The answer? Artists created brash characters to personify a brand.
“The artist could embrace medicinal or especially sweet flavors as aspects of the brand’s character,” says Rennert. “These figures, wicked or arch or bold, would conjure up for the consumer an idea of oneself as feeling, or embodying, that character, slipping into a different skin or consciousness by quaffing that particular magic transfiguring potion.”
To celebrate this artistic heritage, we selected five vintage posters for bartenders to use as inspiration to create original cocktails. The outcome was delightful, with everything from a whimsically fruity concoction splattered with edible paint, to a deep, dark, devilishly bitter aperitivo.
Jump Straight to a Recipe
The Opera Glasses Cocktail
The Night Terror Cocktail
The Go-Getter Cocktail
The Campari After Dark Cocktail
The Road to Turin Cocktail
Courtesy Nathaniel Smith, bartender, Spoon & Stable, Minneapolis
Credited to Swiss artist Charles Loupot in 1930, this Art Deco image is one of two posters Loupot designed for Cointreau, says Rennert. It features Pierrot, the famed sad clown mime from the commedia dell’arte, as he embraces a bottle of orange liqueur instead of his lost love Columbina. The overall effect is “a wistful, knowing, bitter-sweetness.”
This cocktail relies on brandy-based orange liqueur Cointreau for its flavorful base. Meanwhile, egg whites and Greek yogurt provide velvety texture and create a canvas for the edible paint garnish. Edible spray paint is available at most craft and kitchen specialty stores.
- 1½ ounces Cointreau
- 1 ounce fresh orange juice
- ¾ ounce simple syrup
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- 1 ounce egg whites
- ¼ ounce crème de cacao (preferably Tempus Fugit Spirits)
- 1 teaspoon Greek yogurt
- Edible spray paint, for garnish
- Paprika oil, for garnish*
In cocktail shaker, add all ingredients. Shake vigorously to froth egg whites. Add ice, and shake again. Strain into chilled coupe glass.
Garnish with spritz of yellow and/or orange edible spray paint, and 2 dots of paprika oil.
* To make paprika oil, combine 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 2 teaspoons smoked paprika in jar. Cover and set aside for 24 hours, shaking every few hours. Strain through coffee filter or fine-mesh strainer.
Courtesy Max Green, senior barman, Amor y Amargo, New York City
Leonetto Cappiello, widely regarded as the father of modern advertising, created this iconic image in 1906. The “green devil” in this poster represents absinthe, which Maurin made until its production was outlawed in the U.S. in 1912. After that, the brand created cherry-flavored Maurin Quina, which still exists today.
The Night Terror
A wine infused with wild cherries and quinine, and fortified by a touch of cherry brandy, Maurin Quina has a flavor some liken to cherry marzipan. For this recipe, Green riffed on a Black Manhattan to showcase Maurin’s cherry note.
“When making this cocktail, I was thinking about the devil’s prominence on the bottle and in this poster,” says Green. Another bottle on the shelf seemed a perfect fit. “According to legend, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia became ill during a visit to Latvia, but was cured after drinking Riga Black Balsam, ‘saving her from the devil, in essence.’ ”
- 1 ½ ounces Wild Turkey 101 Rye
- 1 ounce Maurin Quina
- ½ ounce Riga Black Balsam liqueur (can substitute Fernet)
- 2 dashes Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
- Fresh thyme or thin curl of lime peel, for garnish (optional)
Add all ingredients into mixing glass. Stir, then strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with sprig of thyme or lime peel laid across the rim of the glass, if desired.
Courtesy Chelsea Gregoire, bar manager, Hotel Revival, Baltimore
Marie Brizard Anisette
This Cappiello work dates to 1928. “Haughty crimson and flame-yellow lettering aren’t the typical hues for advertising anise drinks,” says Rennert. But Cappiello drew inspiration from Brizard’s chief ingredient, aniseed from Andalusia, “for a brand of fire and luxury” married with the baroque image of 18th-century France.
Egg white froth and rosy hints from the Campari nod to the voluminous red-and-white dress depicted on the poster. Also, the star anise garnish is a subtle reference to the pattern of its fabric. Gregoire makes coffee syrup from leftover java that would otherwise go to waste, but a commercial coffee-flavored syrup could also be used.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- ¾ ounce Marie Brizard Anisette
- ½ ounce afternoon coffee syrup*, or other coffee-flavored syrup
- ½ ounce Campari
- 4 dashes orange bitters
- 1 egg white
- Orange peel, for garnish
- Star anise, for garnish
In shaker, combine all ingredients without ice. Cover, and shake well to froth egg whites. Scoop in ice, and shake again. Strain into coupe glass. Twist orange peel over cocktail to express its oils, then discard. Float star anise in drink.
* To make afternoon coffee syrup, combine equal parts coffee and raw sugar in saucepan. Heat mixture, but don’t boil. Stir until sugar fully dissolves. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
Courtesy Alex Negranza, bar manager, Better Luck Tomorrow, Houston
Italian designer Marcello Nizzoli created this poster in 1926. “One of the rarest and most brilliant Art Deco designs ever created,” says Rennert. “A masterpiece of composition and a classic of Cubism…the entirety of the composition lunges toward the viewer in gravity-defying space.”
This cocktail looks like a tiki drink, but it’s not at all fruity. Coffee-infused Campari provides the base and vibrant red hue, while small amounts of other spirits like applejack and smoky Scotch add complexity.
- 2 tablespoons coffee beans
- 1½ ounces Campari
- ¾ ounce Laird’s Bonded Straight Apple Brandy
- ¼ ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
- ¼ ounce Caol Ila Single Malt Whisky
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Lime wheel, for garnish
- Brandied cherry, for garnish
- Mint sprig, for garnish
In mixing glass, combine coffee beans and Campari. Infuse for 2 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and ice. Stir, then strain into hurricane glass over fresh ice. Garnish with lime wheel, cherry and mint sprig. Serve with straw
Courtesy Ashtin Berry, beverage director, Tokyo Record Bar, New York City
Cinzano Vermouth di Torino
Another work from Cappiello, this one from 1910. He was the first poster artist to use bold figures that “pop” against dark backgrounds, a startling contrast to the flowery, demure advertisements of the time. Cappiello worked for the Cinzano family for over 20 years, says Rennert.
Vermouth di Torino (vermouth of Turin, Italy) is one of only two protected geographical indications of origin for the spirit. While Cinzano is shown on the poster, most U.S. consumers will have an easier time finding Cocchi’s version. Regular sweet vermouth can also be used.
“The poster reminded me of the old trade routes of Savoie, and how Torino became a style of vermouth, because Turin was a major port,” says Berry of the inspiration for her low-alcohol creation. The smoked clove also nods to Turin’s placement along the historic spice route.
- 1½ ounces shochu
- ¾ ounces Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (or other sweet vermouth)
- 1 teaspoon dry vermouth
- 3 dashes orange bitters
- 1 dash chocolate mole bitters
- Orange twist, for garnish
- 2 whole cloves, for garnish
Light 1 whole clove with match. Blow out flame, and place clove on plate. Place chilled rocks glass upside down over clove to trap smoke.
In mixing glass, combine all ingredients with ice. Stir, then strain into smoked rocks glass. Garnish with orange twist studded with remaining clove.
- 1The Opera Glasses Cocktail
- 2The Night Terror Cocktail
- 3The Go-Getter Cocktail
- 4The Campari After Dark Cocktail
- 5The Road to Turin Cocktail