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The Old Man Hemingway and the Daiquiri

October 16, 2012 By: Jack Robertiello


What the great American novelist Ernest Hemingway drank may, at first, seem mainly interesting to fans of his fiction and reporting, but in Phil Greene's "To Have and Have Another - A Hemingway Cocktail Companion," (www.tohaveandhaveanother.com, http://tohaveandhaveanother.wordpress.com), we're reminded that he was a massively influential character, and what and how he drank reflected and created trends in the first part of the 20th century.

Greene, best known in the cocktail world as vice president, co-founder and legal counsel for the Museum of the American Cocktail, takes us briefly inside his new book.

 

Mix: What can a book about Hemingway and his drinks tell us about the man and the drinks?

Phil Greene: The book offers the reader a number of perspectives into Hemingway, both as a world traveler and as a writer. For one thing, you’re going to see drinks reflecting just about everywhere he lived, worked and visited. His mantra might have been “think globally, drink locally.” From the Armagnac, Calvados, Cognac and absinthe of France, to the Campari and grappa of Italy, to the gins of Holland and England, to the aguardiente and sherry of Spain, to the rums of Cuba and Pisco from Peru. You’ll also see ample evidence that, although he did drink a lot, Hemingway generally exercised great restraint and discipline when it came to drinking – he generally didn’t let it interfere with his writing, which was of paramount importance to him. He jokingly contrasted his conduct with that of his rival, William Faulkner. When asked if it were true that he took a pitcher of Martinis with him every morning on his way to work, Hemingway replied, “Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes – and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one. Besides, who in hell would mix more than one Martini at a time?”

Mix: He's probably best known to the current generation of bartenders as the reason to juice grapefruits fresh for the Hemingway Daiquiri - are there other influences he's left behind?

Greene: Yeah, we see the inclusion of fresh grapefruit and lime juice in the “E. Hemingway Special” way back in the 1937 edition of the cocktail manual from the Floridita in Havana. He was also pretty particular about chilling his glassware, especially his Martini glasses; he froze them, and his Spanish cocktail onions, in a deep freeze at 15 below zero! You’ll also see his love for Angostura bitters, at a time when bitters were on the wane. He added them to his Gin and Tonic, and another really nice drink called the Death in the Gulf Stream, with Holland Gin and lime juice.
 
Mix: I know you've been researching this book for some time - did anything surprise you about Hemingway or his drinking life? 

Greene: If anything, I realized that although he didn’t care for much vermouth in his Martini, he loved vermouth. There’s a classic scene in "A Farewell to Arms" where the character is drinking Cinzano right from the bottle. It was also a favorite drink of his when he was onboard his boat Pilar, where he’d mix both sweet and dry vermouth in a drink called the Vermouth Panache (also with Angostura bitters). And although it wasn’t a surprise, I did come to really see the extent to which he disdained sugar in his drinks. Not just in the Papa Doble (where he used just a touch of Maraschino liqueur in place of the sugar), but you also see a sugarless Irish Whiskey Sour in "Islands in the Stream," and his standby Scotch and lime juice.

Mix: Now that I know he initially thought of Americanos and Negronis as tasting like a brass doorknob, I won't be able to shake the image. Are there other well-turned descriptions of drinks or spirits you found?

Greene: Well, he wasn’t referring to Americanos and Negronis, he was talking about aperitif bitters, generally. It was in a 1922 column he wrote for the Toronto Star, he’d only been in Paris nine months or so, and he wrote of aperitifs as being “those tall, bright red or yellow drinks that are poured from two or three bottles from hurried waiters during the hour before lunch and the hour before dinner, when all Paris gathers at the cafes to poison themselves to a cheerful pre-eating glow. The aperitifs are all patented mixtures, contain a high percentage of alcohol and bitters, have a basic taste like a brass doorknob, and go by such names as Amourette, Anis Delloso, Amer Picon, Byrrh, Tomyysette and twenty others.”

But that’s what I really found compelling about his writing, how he described food and drink. In "A Farewell to Arms," the Martinis he drank “were cool and clean,” and made him “feel civilized.” In the original manuscript of "Islands in the Stream," he wrote that “The drinks were awfully good. Roger made an admirable martini that you felt take hold right under your arms.” Similarly, in "Across the River and Into the Trees," the Martinis consumed by two soon-to-be-separated lovers brought a feeling of “warmth and (a) momentary destruction of sorrow.” Then there’s the commentary when David is drinking in "The Garden of Eden" - “He sipped the whiskey and Perrier again and looked out the door at the late summer day. He was cooling out as he always did and the giant killer made things better.” One of my favorites concerns the modified Tom Collins he has in "Islands" - "Thomas Hudson took a sip of the ice-cold drink that tasted of the fresh green lime juice mixed with the tasteless coconut water that was still so much more full-bodied than any charged water, strong with the real Gordon’s gin that made it alive to his tongue and rewarding to swallow, and all of it tautened by the bitters that gave it color. It tastes as good as a drawing sail feels, he thought. It is a hell of a good drink.” You can almost taste it!

Mix: What were his five favorite drinks?

Greene: I’m going to say the Whiskey and Soda (or Perrier), the Martini, Daiquiri, absinthe, and perhaps the Gin and Tonic. He also loved Scotch, either with plain water, or with lime juice. It’s interesting that you never see any reference in his prose to bourbon, perhaps he decided to leave that to Faulkner and other American/Southern Gothic writers. But he did drink bourbon; there’s still a bottle of Old Forester sitting on his bar at his home in Cuba, just collecting dust. You also see Campari drinks quite often in his prose, the Negroni, Americano, and a hybrid drink with Gin, Campari and soda.

Mix: While he was critical of F. Scott Fitzgerald's over-imbibing, he himself was known sometimes as a mean, even cruel, drunk - did you find many instances of the other, more bon vivant drinking Hemingway?

Greene: Oh, sure. I think that any meanness on Hemingway’s part was usually reserved for or directed at people in his own industry, whom he considered either rivals or “phonies.” Among regular people, that’s where he had his enduring friendships, folks like Joe Russell, Charles Thompson, Toby Bruce, et al. But there were some “bon vivant” stories from his interactions with the rich and famous, as well, like with Marlene Dietrich, whom he affectionately called “The Kraut,” Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergmann, Gary Cooper, and others. One story that comes to mind was the “liquid lunch” he and Giuseppe Cipriani had one day in the early 1950s. Cipriani owned Harry’s Bar in Venice, and had a strict policy to never drink with customers, it just wasn’t good form. Hemingway charmed him into violating that policy, and it took poor Cipriani three days to recover! Then there was the night that Hem and Pan Am Airlines executive Grant Mason went door to door through the barrios of Jaimanitas, Cuba, teaching the locals how to properly drink Cognac, via a process they called “Carburetion.” And there are countless stories of Hemingway covering the bar tabs of U.S. Naval officers and others at the Floridita in Havana. He could be a charming, jovial fellow when he wanted to be.
 
Mix: What's your favorite Hemingway-inspired drink right now?

Greene: I can honestly say that Hemingway turned me on to Campari, and changed my mind about Holland gin (just as he did for Charles Baker, Jr. - check out what Baker says about the Death in the Gulf Stream in "The Gentleman’s Companion, Part II"). The Americano and Negroni are both go-to drinks for me, just so easy to make, such complex flavors, and the beauty of the Americano is that it’s relatively low-alcohol. The Death in the Gulfstream is a bit more work, you have to crush some ice in a Lewis bag and squeeze the juice of a lime, but it’s so worth the effort. Like the Negroni, there’s a ton of flavor in there, a little off-putting at first, but an acquired taste well worth the acquisition. Then you have the Martini – cold, clean and dry, just the way he liked them, not too big, just an ounce and three quarters of gin, that way they don’t get warm. One more, and I know you only asked for one, his Gin and Tonic, just the classic recipe but with Angostura bitters, really adds a nice touch to a classic. In "Islands," he wrote, “It tastes good to me. I like the quinine taste with the lime peel. I think it sort of opens up the pores of the stomach or something. I get more of a kick out of it than any other gin drink. It makes me feel good.” Me, too.


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