How to Drink, According to Hemingway

Drinkers learn cocktail etiquette many ways and from many sources, but for our money, there is no better drinking guru than Ernest Hemingway.

Papa left us many bon mots on the subject. Here is the best advice to be found in his books, letters and lore.

On When to Drink:

  • In the postscript to a letter to critic Ivan Kaskin in 1935, Hemingway wrote, “When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well-being that rum does?... The only time it isn't good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief."
  • When asked about drinking while working, Hemingway once responded, “Jesus Christ! 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.”

On How to Make a Drink:

  • In a note to writer Carlos Baker, Hemingway set down his recipe for a Bloody Mary: "To make a pitcher of Bloody Marys (any smaller amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. (This to prevent too rapid melting and watering of our product.) Mix a pint of good Russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice. Add a tablespoon full of Worcestershire sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but you can use A1 or any good beef-steak sauce. Stirr (with two rs). Then add a jigger of fresh-squeezed lime juice. Stir. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful, weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka."
  • For the recipe collection, So Red the Nose by Sterling North and Carl Kroch, Hemingway contributed a cocktail named for his book, Death in the Afternoon: “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."

On Drinking in General:

  • “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
  • "Never delay kissing a pretty girl or opening a bottle of whiskey."
  • “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”