Hemingway has been quoted as saying, “Write drunk, edit sober.” This quote has become so popular it has consequently become the top ‘Hemingway quote’ on the internet. It’s been plastered across innumerable young wannabe writer’s Instagram and Pinterest accounts; and has been embossed onto everything from t-shirts to flasks, old Underwood typewriters, key chains, coffee mugs, shot glasses, even beard oil tins. The quote has become an inseparable part of the Hemingway legacy; and today I’m here to tell you that Ernest Miller Hemingway never EVER said it. Sorry. It’s true. The quote can’t even be misattributed to him via one of his novels. The line ‘write drunk, edit sober’ has never appeared in anything Hemingway ever wrote, and has never been recorded as something he ever said. In fact, Hemingway abstained from alcohol altogether while writing and editing. Myth busted, moving on.
Did Hemingway drink? Mon Deiu! Yes! Silly question. It is fair to say that his thirst for life was met equally by his thirst for an appropriately timed cocktail. He cut his teeth on liters of cheap Valpolicella and grappa while on the Italian front; serving with the Italian division of the Red Cross ambulance corp. during World War I. After nearly being blown up by an Austrian trench mortar, he spent months on his back in a Milanese hospital drinking strong Amaro and vermouth; just as his character Frederic Henry would drink, lame and in a hospital bed, in A Farewell to Arms.
But what did Hemingway really drink? That’s tricky. Everything is a good answer; if a bit contrived. Hemingway also drank seasonally and locally. He downed liters of Tavel rosé in the South of France, sipped Champagne and absinthe (Death in the Afternoon) concoctions in Paris, Aguardiente in Pamplona, beer and the local brandy while hunting kudu in the Serengeti; and once while in Cuba, he sipped 17 double rum ‘Hemingway’ daiquiris without ever leaving the barstool (speaking of myths, this certainly isn’t one of them). His love for Italian bitters carried well into his life; Campari lacing into many of his cocktails. And his time in the Caribbean left him awash in the rum of the islands. Whatever the flavor of the region, he was drinking it; and most often enjoying it.
There is one spirit though, no matter where he went, that ruled over all others. The clean, civilized, austere libation that lubricated Hemingway his entire life. Gin. It’s been claimed that Hemingway’s favourite drink was the Mojito; that he even invented it. No, that’s another myth. Hemingway was a diabetic and was well aware of it; steering clear of any added sugar in his cocktails. Did he drink Mojitos? Yes, sometimes. But if you asked the man himself, his most treasured drink, the one he prized over all, was the dry, gin Martini— as cold as he could get it. He even went as far as to freeze his cocktail onions (he didn’t use olives) and super chill his vermouth. He made his martinis reasonably small; for the larger it was, the warmer it would become.
It was gin he began to favor while living in Paris. While his close friend Scott Fitzgerald slammed glass after glass of Gin Rickey, Hemingway kept pace with the Gimlet; not needing to dilute the gin/lime alchemy with soda water. Hemingway even took bottles of London Dry Gin and lime juice into the African bush with him so that he and his (2nd) wife Pauline might enjoy the drink while on safari. It is easy to equate Hemingway with the tropical, juice-laden rum cocktails seen at every beach-y tourist trap known to man. However, it is the cold, crystalline, aromatic gin cocktails of the early 20th century that made Hemingway smile most. What follows are three of my favorite Hemingway cocktails, courtesy of cocktail historian, Philip Greene.
Death in the Gulf Stream:
Juice and Peel of 1 lime
Fill highball glass with ice and add 6 dashes of Angostura. Add lime juice and peel; and fill with gin. Stir vigorously with bar spoon until glass is frosted over
1oz chilled Rose’s Lime juice
In a shaker combine gin and lime juice over ice. Shake until chilled and serve in chilled cocktail glass
The Hemingway Martini:
2oz. High-proof London Dry gin
“just enough vermouth to cover the bottom of the glass”- Ernest Hemingway, 1949
With plenty of ice, stir ingredients until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with frozen cocktail onion.
Wid Kever, IV ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Wine & Spirits Consultant – New Smyrna Beach