Today we’re taking a look at the beautifully styled world of retro drink photography! The ’80s images that follow celebrate the power of bold black backdrops, vivid gradients, and tropical motifs. I’m also sharing a few of my own photos (like the one above), and stay tuned for an easy-to-make Mai Tai recipe at the end of the post. Ready for a closer look at the breezy world of retro cocktails? Cheers to that…
A Backdrop in Black
’80s food and beverage photography frequently involved the use of black backdrops. The result was dramatic and stylized, with the consumables truly taking center stage. The photo below is by Michael Waine, featured in Creative Black Book: Photography (1985). [via Palm & Laser]
Black backdrops set the stage for ’80s photos with a modern look, but they also allowed for a dash of elegance. Gold-rimmed serveware, ornate stemware and a small bouquet of alstroemeria give the vignette below a chic vibe. The blatant use of chocolate doesn’t hurt, either! [photo by Photography Unlimited Inc, featured in Creative Black Book: Photography (1985), via Palm & Laser]
Retro drink styling tip #1: Bring on the chocolate shavings.
Sprinkles are great (and definitely ’80s), but if you want a look that’s a bit more elegant, use a vegetable peeler to scrape the edge of a chocolate bar or block. I used a peeler, then a knife to chop up the shavings and crumbles that garnish the hot chocolate below, but if you use the peeler alone, you can get some fancy curls that will be retro-fabulous.
While ombre gradients of color may seem like a new trend, they were definitely making waves in the ’80s. Sometimes, the drink itself seemed to come alive in a cloud of color! [photo by Schewe Photography, from Creative Black Book: Photography (1985) via Palm & Laser]
Sometimes it was the background that showcased the gradient. [photo from The Mellow Bellows Group, featured in Creative Black Book: Photography (1985), via Palm & Laser]
While the Mirror80 photo below features an ombre backdrop, you can achieve an ombre effect in the drink itself with the help of ingredients like Pom pomegranate juice (which can be poured into the bottom of the glass before a lighter-colored mixture is added, as shown here).
Many an ’80s cocktail photo featured tropical accents, from drink umbrellas to freshly cut fruit. Below we see a still from the 1986 horror/comedy classic Night of the Creeps. This breezy moment occurs in one of the character’s dreams. Because who wouldn’t want to be handed a drink in a coconut…with two straws?!
I mentioned the importance of freshly cut fruit, right?! Oranges, pineapple, strawberries, maraschino cherries–you name it! Below (left) we see an image from Tumblr Neon Talk (an Aiwa ad from 1984), and below (right) is a photo of Fruit-Tea Punch from The Encyclopedia of Creative Cooking (1982):
Retro drink styling tip #3: Add tropical flair with drink umbrellas, fruit and retro staples like red drinking straws.
Nearby tropical foliage can also help create an ’80s look. While party straws featuring patterns and designs are fabulous, choices were more limited in the ’80s. That’s why a red or a clear straw will definitely evoke a retro feel. But don’t hesitate to add in some modern elements as well! A beautifully designed party straw from today can definitely help play up an ’80s vibe.
A Retro Mai Tai Recipe
I’ll end today’s post with a Mai Tai recipe that’s been tested extensively. That’s because it was a signature drink I created for a summer gathering. It’s likable enough to serve to a group, yet it’s not as sweet as some of the Mai Tais you’ll find. Here’s the recipe…
- 1 ounce light rum
- 1 ounce dark rum
- 2 ounces pineapple juice
- 1 ounce cranberry juice
- 1 ounce orange juice
- a splash of Orgeat
- a splash of lime
In short, you’ll add one part rum to two parts juice. You can tweak the ratio of light to dark rum, and you can adjust the ratio of orange, pineapple and cranberry juice. Just make sure there’s twice as much juice as rum, and you’re set! Top it off with the Orgeat and lime, and you have a delicious tropical drink that’s perfect for summer, or dreaming of tropical weather in the midst of a cold winter.
Important: make sure you add the Orgeat and the splash of lime. This is what takes the drink to the next level, and the lime ensures your beverage doesn’t reside in syrupy sweet territory. When I mix up my Mai Tai, I cut the end off a lime and squeeze it liberally. Also, while the drink is not pictured with ice in the photo above, it’s really delicious when poured over ice. The ice dilutes the sweetness of the other potent ingredients. At the very least, serve it chilled.
Many Mai Tai recipes involve more rum, but I find the amount listed above to be perfect for a truly balanced drink when it comes to flavor. Want a stronger drink? Simply add more rum.
Cheers to ’80s cocktails!