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Toasting Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

John F. Kennedy Library

Ernest Hemingway was one of the 20th century’s finest authors and also, of course, one of its most prodigious drinkers. (Papa would have turned 114 on Sunday.) His tastes ranged widely, from enjoying French wines with Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Ezra Pound in 1920s Paris to shaking up tropical rum concoctions on Key West and in Havana.

All of this makes him an ideal subject for a mixological biography. And Philip Greene delivered last fall with "To Have and to Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion," a tome full of recipes, anecdotes and history from Hemingway’s life and novels. (The work is actually a finalist in the Best New Book category at tomorrow night’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.) We asked Greene about some of the drinks connected to Hemingway and got a few great stories.

There is a famous elixir that Hemingway himself really invented: the Death in the Afternoon. The simple mix of Champagne and absinthe was first published in 1935’s "So Red the Nose," a collection of cocktail recipes from noted writers including Edgar Rice Burroughs and Erskine Caldwell. Hemingway concocted the formula, according to lore, after spending hours helping to free a fishing boat that had run aground during a storm.

“Given that many ‘cocktail origin’ stories are pure folklore, as are many of the legends associated with Hemingway, the chances of fabrication or embellishment are greatly enhanced with this one,” Greene says, “but I am willing to believe that he did invent this; after all, he loved the drink’s components.” The characters in Hemingway’s novels often call for bubbly brands like Bollinger, Piper-Heidsieck and Perrier-Jouët, and in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," the author wrote that whiskey “does not curl around inside of you the way absinthe does.”

Hemingway loved plenty of other cocktails as well: “Of his ‘favorites,’ Greene says, “there are the Whiskey & Soda (number one in terms of number of times mentioned in his prose), the Martini, the Daiquiri, the Gin & Tonic (his had Angostura bitters), Dripped Absinthe and the "suite" of Campari-based drinks, the Negroni, the Americano and a variation of his called the Gin, Campari & Soda.”

Greene’s personal favorite Hemingway cocktail is the Green Isaac’s Special, a tipple that turns up in the posthumously published "Islands in the Stream." It makes its first appearance while the main character, Thomas Hudson, is out deep-sea fishing: “Where Thomas Hudson lay on the mattress his head was in the shade cast by the platform at the forward end of the flying bridge where the controls were and when Eddy came aft with the tall cold drink made of gin, lime juice, green coconut water, and chipped ice with just enough Angostura bitters to give it a rusty, rose color, he held the drink in the shadow so the ice would not melt while he looked out over the sea.”

And then there’s the Hemingway Daiquiri, created at Floridita, a Havana bar the author frequented and whose bartender, Constante Ribalaigua Vert, was known for his mastery of the Daiquiri. “By the mid-‘30s, the Floridita had no fewer than five variations of Daiquiri,” Greene says. “The 1937 Floridita menu lists a drink called the E. Hemingway Special, a misspelled homage to their newest, and most famous, regular.”

Because Hemingway’s father had been a diabetic, he was concerned about the amount of sugar in his cocktails, so his eponymous beverage swapped out the sweetener for a little bit of maraschino liqueur instead. And it calls for some grapefruit juice in addition to the standard lime.

Today also just happens to be National Daiquiri Day, a coincidence we’re sure Hemingway would have appreciated. We hope you’ll join us in mixing one up and toasting Papa’s birthday!