The DOs and DON’Ts of Drinking Like Hemingway

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Along with his impressive roster of novels, poems and journalistic efforts, Ernest Hemingway is also known and regarded for his tumultuous lifelong affair with alcohol. While we know that he never drank while he was writing (“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.”), his novels are littered with references to cocktails and drinking—and Papa, as he was affectionately known among friends, drank well. Most of the time.

After scouring the interwebs and books for clues to Hemingway’s many drinking habits and quotes, we were impressed with the wealth of knowledge this singular man had on the subject—not to mention some of his bizarre methods. Here are a few of the most notable dos and don’ts of his drinking career. Proceed with caution and an open mind.

DO Experiment and Travel Often

Hemingway was a prolific drinker. As documented by Philip Greene in his guide on what, when and where Hemingway drank, To Have and Have Another, the globetrotting writer drank Daiquiris in Cuba, Gin & Coconut Water in Key West, Bloody Marys in Paris. His advice: “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”

DON’T Drink a Whole Bottle in One Sitting

Anyone familiar with Hemingway’s drinking habits knows that he was particularly skilled at overdoing it—and often. There are accounts of him drinking nearly a bottle’s worth of rum in Daiquiris over the course of one day at the bar, making Martinis by the pitcher and various other excessive exploits. But you’re not Ernest Hemingway. So, drink by the glass rather than the pitcher.

DO Follow His Ice Advice

Hemingway liked his drinks cold—emphasis on the C-O-L-D. Over the course of his drinking career he devised a brilliant hack for keeping his Martinis optimally chilled. In a letter to his publisher Charles Scribner in 1947, Hemingway detailed his method: “We have real Gordon’s Gin at 50 bucks a case and real Noilly Prat and have found a way of making ice in the deep-freeze in tennis ball tubes that comes out 15 degrees below zero and with the glasses frozen too makes the coldest martini in the world.”

We tested the tennis ball tube theory and—even though we didn’t take the ice’s temperature—we can aver that the tube-shaped ice can keep any pitcher drink cold for at least a couple of hours. Just be sure to cut off the more narrow bit at the top of the tube and run the outside of the tube under warm water for a few seconds for easy ice extraction. Paired with a frozen glass and frozen cocktail onions (Hemingway’s preferred garnish), your Martinis will quickly reach chilly sub-zero temperatures.

DON’T Skip the Sugar

Hemingway did not like sugary drinks. Earlier in his life, he avoided them simply out of preference, while, later on in life, diabetes took away the option completely. There’s nothing wrong with eschewing sugary drinks, but going entirely without sugar in a cocktail is crazy—especially if that drink falls into the sour family.  

One of the more well-known sugar-free drinks he enjoyed from time to time was the Papa Doble. His version included nearly four ounces of white rum, the juice of two limes and a whole grapefruit, served in a goblet. Some accounts also include six drops of maraschino liqueur—just enough to give the illusion of balance. Hemingway could drink up to six of these per sitting and once even claimed to down an astonishing 17 double Daiquiris one afternoon.

If you find yourself wanting to channel Hemingway’s Daiquiri drinking exploits, skip Papa’s recipe and go for the modern reincarnation, which, thankfully, is made with enough maraschino and simple syrup to give it more than an illusion of balance—and, please, don’t try to drink 17.

DO Champagne, Champagne, Champagne

Not only did Hemingway routinely enjoy Champagne Cocktails (bubbly with a bitters-soaked sugar cube), he also liked to top unexpected spirits with the stuff. One of the most notable drinks he helped invent the 1930s was the Death in the Afternoon, an easy mix of one-and-a-half parts absinthe to four parts Champagne. Despite its innocent minty hue, it packs a punch—especially when you follow Hemingway’s lead and put down five in a row.

Later on, during the ‘50s, when Hemingway’s health was in sharp decline, his doctor told him to lay off the booze—which meant cutting back to just a liter of wine per day, along with one cocktail. As Greene notes in his book, a diagram for a drink Hemingway often imbibed during this period was, strangely—or appropriately—found in a file called “Medical Records—1958.” It was a blend of scotch, sherry and Champagne.

If nothing else, take heed of Hemingway’s advice from a 1950 interview with Lillian Ross: “If I have any money, I can’t think of any better way of spending money than on Champagne.”

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