Honoring William Faulkner’s Liquor Legacy


You’d think that if a town’s only Nobel laureate supported legalizing the sale of alcohol, then the townspeople might take it to heart. Not so in New Albany, Mississippi, the town where William Faulkner was born, and a place where the sale of beer and wine coolers only became legal this year, reports the New York Times . If Faulkner was right when he said “Civilization begins with distillation,” then New Albany just took one step closer to joining up the rest of the modern world. Then again, based on the famous novelist’s own history, drinking those distilled spirits does not always lead to civilized behavior.

“The maddening thing about Bill Faulkner,” recalled Random House founder Bennett Cerf in his memoir At Random , “was that he’d go off on one of those benders, which were sometimes deliberate, and when he came out of it, he’d come walking into the office clear-eyed, ready for action, as though he hadn’t had a drink in six months. But during those bouts he didn’t know what he was doing.”

Faulkner’s brother John claimed that he would often fake being drunk to avoid work. (Faulkner also drank in order to work. As he once famously said: “I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach.”) John revealed a very different side of Mississippi in his book, My Brother Bill. It seems Bill “got to drinking one day with Charlie Crouch. Charlie was our town drunk. He was harmless and everybody liked him, but he would get drunk. That night Bill didn’t get home at all. The next morning when [his other brother] Jack and I were on our way to school we met him coming home. He was in a foul humor and had on Charlie’s hat. They had swapped during the night.”

The author didn’t just drink with bums from Mississippi; he also hung out with bums in Hollywood. Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide recounts one vivid example from his unsuccessful days as a screenwriter. “Hired by director Howard Hawks to write Road to Glory , Faulkner showed up to a script meeting carrying a brown paper bag. He pulled out a bottle of whiskey, but accidentally sliced his finger unscrewing the cap. If the film’s producer thought the meeting was over, he was wrong. Faulkner dragged over the wastepaper basket — so he could gulp whiskey and drip blood as they hashed out the story.”

The classic Southern novelist, Faulkner was a life-long fan of the Mint Julep. Try this recipe from Hemingway and Bailey: “7 sprigs of mint, 1/2 oz. simple syrup, 3 oz. bourbon. Crush 6 mint sprigs into the bottom of a chilled double Old-Fashioned glass. Pour in simple syrup and bourbon. Fill with crushed ice. Garnish with the remaining mint sprig and serve with two short straws. Sometimes a splash of club soda is added.”

This cocktail is a perfect way to enjoy a good bourbon, but a lack of mixers apparently never put Faulkner off. “There is no such thing as bad whiskey,” he once said. “Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.”

UPDATE: Originally this piece incorrectly named the town as Oxford rather than New Albany.