For the better part of a century, a certain type of young person has learned to drink from the pages of Ernest Hemingway. I should know. I’ll sheepishly admit that I was once that certain type of young person.
“The Sun Also Rises” might do more to spark an interest in spirits and cocktails (and wine) in people like me than does an entire library of mixologists’ guides. Look back through my Spirits columns and recipes, and you’ll find Hemingway’s fingerprints are all over them, including the Negroni, the daiquiri and the Jack Rose.
Philip Greene, the Washington-based author of the new book “To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion” (Perigee), is a kindred spirit.
“Hemingway introduced me to Campari. He introduced me to Valpolicella wine. In the 1980s, I was reading ‘Islands in the Stream’ while visiting my in-laws in Florida and decided to make Green Isaac’s Special — with gin, coconut water, lime juice and bitters,” Greene says. “The first time I had it, I thought, ‘This is cool. I’m drinking what Hemingway drank.’ ”
Whatever one feels about the literary legacy of Hemingway, one thing is indisputable: The man was detailed and exacting in which drinks his characters imbibe, and the choice of drink is always important.
“We watched the beginning of the evening of the last night of the fiesta. The absinthe made everything seem better. I drank it without sugar in the dripping glass, and it was pleasantly bitter.” So says narrator Jake Barnes in the waning pages of “The Sun Also Rises.”
At this point in the novel, Jake’s friends have beaten the hell out of each other, and the girl has run away with the bullfighter. Jake’s decision to drink absinthe “without sugar in the dripping glass” is no small thing.
Wasn’t it Aristotle who said — more than 2,000 years ago — that decisions define character?
“Every drink we order represents a small decision, and often more than one,” writes David Wondrich in the entertaining forward to Greene’s book. “Individually, they might be minor, but they add up, as do all the little decisions we make. . . . To order a mimosa in the morning is a very, very different thing from ordering a no-vermouth dry Martini.”
“To Have and Have Another” explores the work of Hemingway through more than 50 of his drinks, each one complete with the recipe and chapter references noting where they’re consumed in the novels and stories. For instance, we can find the Vermouth Cassis in “A Moveable Feast” (twice), in “The Garden of Eden” (Chapter 10) and in “A Farewell to Arms” (Chapter 13). How about the fine a l’eau (or brandy and soda): “The Sun Also Rises” (Chapters 1 and 10). The Negroni: “Across the River and Into the Trees” (Chapter 6).
“People ask me, ‘Could you do this with another author?’ I don’t think so. Maybe Ian Fleming or Raymond Chandler, but no one else,” Greene says.
“Gee-whiz” tidbits abound. Who knew that Hemingway was so wrapped up in the initial popularizing of the bloody mary in the 1940s? Greene cites letters that prove it. Who knew that the author and a pal tried to popularize a childish form of drinking called the carburetion: basically taking a shot of cognac after exhaling and then taking a deep breath with an open mouth?
Of course, no Hemingway cocktail book would be complete without the island drinks of his Key West days and his pre-revolution residence in Cuba. Most Hemingway fans are aware of how he drained away his later years on a bar stool in Havana, and many know of his affection for the daiquiri, drinks he popularized. The books and stories of that era might be inferior to the ones written years earlier in Europe, but Hemingway’s Cuban period remains the one embraced by drinkers.
Greene, however, has a particular bone to pick with one Cuban drink linked to Hemingway: the mojito. After all, a famous handwritten note hangs in a touristy Havana bar and reads, “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.”
Allegedly the handwriting is Hemingway’s. Greene — whose day job at the Pentagon is as a trademark attorney for the U.S. Marine Corps — is not buying it.
“It annoys me that the mojito is the drink most associated with Hemingway. Yet you will not find the mojito in his prose nor in his letters,” he says.
Greene’s fascinating literary-booze study goes hand in hand with his work as a founding member of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans. In fact, Greene’s great-great grandmother was related to Antoine Peychaud, the 19th-century pharmacist whose Peychaud’s bitters are still used in a classic Sazerac and who is credited — incorrectly, Greene insists — with coining the term “cocktail.”
“There is so much more to cocktails beyond just the drinks,” Greene says. “There are stories. There’s history. There’s context. I’m interested in preserving these cultural artifacts.”
Hemingway, as his book shows, knew that better than anyone.