The Third Rail: Ernest Hemingway’s Drinkable Feast


Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working on Hemingway Deadlights, a mystery featuring the Nobel Prize-winning writer as its sleuth. Plenty of real-life authors have made appearances in novels — Arthur Conan Doyle in Julian Barnes’ Arthur and George, for one — but none that I know of has been so driven by booze as Papa Hemingway. And though this book’s mystery may be fictional, the old man in a sea of alcohol certainly isn’t.

Most tributes to Hemingway cite his vastly influential writing, but his globe-trotting adventurousness also made him a trailblazer when it came to cocktails. He almost single-handedly popularized the daiquiri thanks to his frequent visits to Havana’s El Floridita hotel bar. (There are many variations, but the best as a cocktail rather than a Slurpee is El Floridita’s classic daiquiri: 2 ounces rum, juice of ½ lime, 1 teaspoon bar sugar or simple syrup, 1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur. Shake all with crushed ice and pour into a cocktail glass. For a “Hemingway Special” add a splash of grapefruit juice as well.)

But the writer was as unfaithful to bars as he could be to wives. In And A Bottle of Rum Wayne Curtis reports that in Havana’s La Bodeguita you can still find Hemingway’s own handwritten confession: “My mojitos in La Bodequita. My daiquiris in El Floridita.” (You don’t need to go to a bar for a mojito: just combine rum, soda, lime juice, sugar, and mint over ice. Adjust the measurements to your own taste. Experiment liberally.)

“Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

Hemingway didn’t limit himself to rum, and you shouldn’t either. Seamus Harris reveals the secret of The Hemingway Reviver, or Death in the Gulf Stream, originally found in Charles H. Baker’s Jigger, Beaker and Glass : fill a tumbler with cracked ice, add 4 dashes of Angostura bitters, juice and peel of 1 lime, and fill the rest of the glass with Holland gin. (If you can’t find Holland gin then use London Dry.) Note that this drink, like his preferred version of the daiquiri, contained no sugar. You could add a teaspoon if you like, but Hemingway would no longer consider you a man.

"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools."

Another cocktail that borrows its name from Death in the Afternoon , Hemingway’s classic treatise on bullfighting, appears in the Esquire Drink Book. The recipe purportedly comes from the author himself: pour 1 ½ ounces of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add champagne “until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink 3 to 5 of these slowly.” After downing all that, who wouldn’t think they could take on a bull?

"Drinking is a way of ending the day."