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Death in the Afternoon

Death in the Afternoon cocktail / Tim Nusog

Ernest Hemingway is known as much for his writing as for his drinking. Through his books and throughout his life, he championed cocktails like the Daiquiri and the Mojito, but nothing stirs the imagination quite like the Death in the Afternoon.

This potent mixture of absinthe and Champagne shares a name with Hemingway’s 1932 book about Spanish bullfighting. Supposedly, the drink was created by the author after enjoying absinthe during his time in France. Death in the Afternoon was also his contribution to “So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon,” a 1935 cocktail book featuring recipes from 30 celebrity authors.

In the book, Hemingway says: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

It’s rare that classic cocktails include such exacting details, but leave it to an author to record his instructions for posterity. (Of course, you’re free to consume fewer than the recommended dose.)

The cocktail’s opalescent milkiness occurs when the Champagne hits the absinthe. The aromatic compounds in absinthe are more soluble in alcohol than in water, so when the absinthe is diluted, those compounds drop out of solution and crowd together—what we see as cloudiness. This process is evident in the classic Absinthe Drip, which combines absinthe with cold water and sugar.

Science aside, the Death in the Afternoon is a smart foray into absinthe for those who are new to the spirit. The easy drink merges the wormwood-and-anise-flavored liquor with dry, bubbly wine, creating an effervescent cocktail that’s strong but surprisingly refreshing. Jump-start your day by having one at brunch, or kill an entire afternoon while reading a book by the cocktail’s creator.


  • 1 1/2 ounces absinthe

  • 4 1/2 ounces chilled Champagne


  1. Pour the absinthe into a coupe.

  2. Top slowly with the Champagne.