You may have heard: Ernest Hemingway enjoyed a tipple or two. In fact, the iconic writer liked his drink so much that another writer, Philip Greene, was inspired to pen To Have and Have Another, a book about Hemingway’s drinking habits and the libations that wove their way into his works. When Greene is not reading or discussing Hemingway, he is stationed at the Pentagon, where he works as a trademark lawyer for the Marines. A longtime Hemingway buff, he became interested in cocktails while researching his ancestors in New Orleans, including one Antoine Amedee Peychaud, the pharmacist who invented Peychaud’s bitters. Eventually, Greene co-founded The Museum of the American Cocktail. His book answers, among other things, the burning question: was Papa really the boozehound he was so rumored to be?
- Hemingway was notoriously fond of drinking, but he refrained from indulging while writing
When asked in an interview if rumors of him taking a pitcher of martinis to work every morning were true, he answered, “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?”
- The mojito was not Hemingway’s favorite drink
Hemingway lived in Havana and may have drunk mojitos, but their connection to the writer can probably be traced to the marketing efforts of La Bodeguita del Medio. A handwritten inscription allegedly penned by Hemingway on the wall of the now famous bar professing his love for the cocktail is likely a forgery, says Greene, who consulted a handwriting expert. As a diabetic, Papa took most of his drinks (including absinthe and double daiquiris) without sugar. So, the sweet mojito surely would not have been his cup of tea.
- Hemingway had several go-to cocktails, but his favorite was a dry martini
The author “thought globally... drank locally,” explains Greene. His characters often drank what he himself quaffed in whatever city he happened to be in while writing. But martinis were a constant, and each seemed drier than the last. In Across the River and Into the Trees, Colonel Richard Cantwell orders a Montgomery Martini: 15 parts gin to one vermouth. In A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry muses of sipping martinis: “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.”
- Hemingway may have liked his martinis as dry as a bone, but he loved vermouth
While recuperating from his wounds during World War I, he would ask friends to smuggle bottles of it into his hospital room, writes Greene. Sound familiar? The A Farewell to Arms protagonist did the same: “I sent for the porter and when he came I told him in Italian to get me a bottle of Cinzano at the wine shop, a fiasco of chianti and the evening papers.” One of his favorite drinks aboard his boat Pilar was a Vermouth Panache, a blend of sweet and dry vermouth with Angostura Bitters.
- Hemingway liked his drinks icy cold
In a letter he wrote to his publisher, he described using tennis ball cans to make dense tubes of ice for mixing martinis, and was known to freeze not only his cocktail glasses but Spanish cocktail onions to keep them cold. He bragged that the method made “the coldest martini in the world,” and described it as “so cold you can’t hold it in your hand. It sticks to the fingers.”
- Hemingway did not invent the Bloody Mary
There are many stories about the origins of the Bloody Mary. One such legend has it that the drink was first served to Hemingway in Paris. As the story goes, his doctors had forbidden him from having alcohol and his wife, Mary, was holding him to it. A bartender at the Ritz mixed him the vodka-and-tomato juice drink, full of booze that could not be detected thanks to the other strong ingredients. Having got the better of his “bloody wife,” the cocktail was christened after her. A number of sources have debunked this myth.
- Hemingway traveled extensively, but was most at home on a barstool
From his experiences in World War I and Lost Generation Paris to safaris in Africa and fishing the Gulf Stream, from covering the Spanish Civil War and World War II to chasing German U-boats off the Cuban coast, Hemingway’s life was one full of adventure, Greene reminds us. “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares,” Papa once said. “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”
I think what I love about this is his sense of ritual. The making of ice from tennis ball cans; the freezing of cocktail onions and glasses. I'm sure he would have cared about the shape and size of the martini glass, the length of the stem. Comme moi.
There is such pleasure in rituals and for those of us who aren't religious (yet who may hypocritically enjoy a bit of churchy stuff like stained glass windows, Christ-on-cross paintings and beautiful hymns) we can also find them in drinking, eating, bathing, sleeping, organising our cans in the pantry and making sure all our coat-hangers face one way in the cupboard. If you can call it a ritual, maybe it's more socially acceptable. No I don't drink my vodka out of the bottle, I like a nice glass, look at me I'm civilised.