Top 10 writers and their favourite drinksBy Lucy Shaw
While the question as to whether alcohol helps to fuel writers’ imaginations or in fact impedes the muse from striking is heavily debated, with some famous scribes claiming to write better after a glass of wine and others keeping their drinks cabinets locked while their typewriters whirl. But it is well documented that some of the greatest writers of the last century lived fast and drank hard.
From Beat writer Jack Kerouac’s passion for margaritas, which he developed a fondness for during his travels through Mexico, to the famous story of the 18 whisky shots that led to Welsh author Dylan Thomas’ demise, writers and booze go together like gin and tonic.
Read on for our round up of ten literary titans and the cocktails that became their signature sips. If we’ve missed anyone important off then let us know in the comment box below.
10: F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gin Rickey
With a wife as emotionally unhinged as Zelda, American author F. Scott Fitzgerald can be forgiven for needing to unwind of an evening with a stiff drink. Considered a member of the Lost Generation of the 1920s, in between penning the likes of The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night and American classic The Great Gatsby, which, with its Champagne-soaked decadence, encapsulated the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald was known to be partial to a Gin Rickey, which his fragile Great Gatsby heroine Daisy Buchanan would drink on her porch.
Served in a highball glass, the cocktail is a simple mix of gin, lime and soda water. Ernest Hemingway, who befriended the Fitzgeralds in Paris, took an instant dislike to Zelda, accusing her of actively encouraging her husband to drink in order to distract him from writing. Describing alcohol as “the rose coloured glasses of life,” Fitzgerald gained a reputation in the ‘20s for his heavy drinking, often introducing himself as: “one of the most notorious drinkers of the younger generation.” Known to be a lightweight, Fitzgerald favoured gin as it was hard to detect on his breath.
9: William Faulkner: Mint Julep
Mississippi-born William Faulkner was an accomplished scribe, penning everything from novels and short stories to screenplays and poetry. Considered one of the most important writers of Southern American literature, his 1954 novel A Fable and final novel The Reivers, published in 1962, both won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Fittingly for a Southerner, Faulkner’s favourite cocktail was a Mint Julep, which blends a Bourbon base with mint, sugar and water and is traditionally served in a pewter cup. However, he rarely indulged in a Julep, which has been associated with the Kentucky Derby since 1938, while writing, preferring to celebrate the completion of a project with a drinking spree. “War and drink are the two things man is never too poor to buy,” Faulkner once said.
8: Tennessee Williams: Ramos Gin Fizz
Another Mississippi native, Tennessee Williams is most famous for his plays A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, though he also enjoyed success with Orpheus Descending and Sweet Bird of Youth. In addition to his plays, which were adapted for the silver screen, with a young Marlon Brando famously playing the tempestuous lead, Stanley Kowalski, in the 1951 film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams, who was of English, Welsh and Huguenot descent, also wrote poetry, short stories and essays. Sadly, towards the end of his career, alcohol and drug dependence dampened his creative output.
His fervent love of Ramos Gin Fizz cocktails weaved its way into a number of his works. Invented by Henrico C. Ramos at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans in 1888, the cocktail, served in a highball glass, mixes gin, lemon juice, lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream, orange flower water and soda water. The drink is still popular in New Orleans today, and is often drunk in Williams’ honour.
7: Dorothy Parker: Gin Martini
While fond of whisky sours, outspoken American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist Dorothy Parker was an avid Martini fan. Celebrated for her acerbic wit, Parker once famously said in jest: “I like to have a Martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.” Writing regularly for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue, Parker’s screenplays led to two Academy Award nominations.
Posthumously, Parker has had a gin created in her honour by the New York Distilling Company, which uses elderberries, cinnamon and hibiscus petals as botanicals. A number of cocktails tip their hat to her, including the Acerbic Mrs. Parker, which blends Dorothy Parker American Gin with orange liqueur, hibiscus syrup and lemon juice.
6: John Steinbeck: Jack Rose
Born in California in 1902, John Steinbeck penned no less than 27 books during his career, with the Pulitzer Prize winning Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and novella Of Mice and Men burning brightest in the literary pantheon. Of German, English and Irish descent, inspiration for Of Mice and Men came from summers spent labouring as a child with migrant workers on sugar beat farms where he was privy to the darker side of human nature. East of Eden meanwhile, was made into a film in 1955 starring James Dean in his first major screen role.
Eschewing a moderate lifestyle in favour of extreme living, Steinbeck once said: “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” Just as well, as he was known to be partial to a Jack Rose cocktail, which blends Applejack brandy with grenadine and lime juice.
5: Raymond Chandler: Gimlet
American novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler came to writing late in life, turning to detective fiction writing aged 44 after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Depression in the early ‘30s. Having moved to London in 1900 and attended Dulwich college, Chicago-born Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939 and went on to be adapted for the silver screen, with hero of the day Humphrey Bogart starring as detective Philip Marlowe alongside Lauren Bacall as his leading lady.
Considered one of the founders of the hardboiled school of detective fiction, Chandler’s protagonist, Philip Marlowe, did much to popularise the Gimlet cocktail in the US, making reference to it in The Long Goodbye: “A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else,” Marlowe asserted.
The origins of the name of the cocktail are disputed, with some believing it takes its name from a small tool used for drilling holes due to the cocktail’s penetrating effects on its drinker, while others think the Gimlet derives from British naval admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette, who encouraged his crew to mix lime with their gin in a bid to ward off scurvy.
4: Truman Capote: Screwdriver
Truman Capote, who brought us such diverse works as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, was a one cocktail man. Remaining faithful to the Screwdriver throughout his life, he referred to it affectionately as “my orange drink.” A blend of vodka, orange juice and orange slices, Capote once said: “In this profession it’s a long walk between drinks.” Known for his high-pitched voice and flamboyant mannerisms, Capote often claimed to be friends with people he had never met, such as Greta Garbo, though he did count Pop artist Andy Warhol as a true friend, who looked up to Capote as a mentor during his early days in New York.
Often seen with a dictionary and notepad under his arm as a child, Capote began his writing career aged 11 with short stories and shot to fame after the publication of In Cold Blood, a journalistic work about the murder of a Kansas farm family at their home, with Capote relying heavily on To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee for help with researching the work, which took four years to write.
The book was turned into a film in 2005 starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote in a performance that earned him an Oscar. Capote’s short story, Summer Crossing, published for the first time in 2005, is being adapted into a film in which actress Scarlett Johnasson will make her directorial debut.
3: Ian Fleming: Vesper Martini
While Raymond Chandler’s detective hero, Philip Marlowe, was a fan of the Gimlet, James Bond author Ian Fleming went one step further and invented a cocktail for his secret agent in the form of the Vesper Martini, which first appeared in Fleming’s 1953 novel, Casino Royale.
Asking the barman for it to be served in a “deep Champagne goblet”, Bond’s version of the Vesper, named after Casino Royale heroine Vesper Lynd, who was bequeathed her unusual title due to having been born on a “dark and stormy night” (vesper means evening in Latin), consists of three measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka and a half measure of Kina Lillet, shaken not stirred (naturally), and served with a twist of lemon peel.
“I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name,” Bond exclaims after being served his poison. Fleming himself took his Vespers at Duke’s hotel in St James’s, where he is said to have coined the legendary “shaken not stirred” line.
2: Ernest Hemingway: Daiquiri
“I drink to make other people more interesting,” American author Ernest Hemingway once said. The four times married writer had a lifelong love affair with alcohol in all its glorious guises, making it hard to pin him to a single cocktail. While many associate him most strongly with the Mojito, it was in fact the Daiquiri that held his attention during hot, sticky nights at the Floridita in Havana, where he penned The Old Man and the Sea, with a Hemingway Daiquiri created in his honour, which blends white rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur, finished with a lime wedge. The writer enjoyed his eponymous Daiquiris so much, he reportedly drank them in glasses as large as vases and once boasted of downing 16 of them in one sitting.
While he loved to drink after hours, Hemingway was disciplined about keeping work and play separate, preferring not to indulge while writing: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut,” he warned. In addition to rum-based Daiquiris and Mojitos, Papa was an avid dry Martini fan, with his protagonist Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms drinking them to make him feel “civilised”.
Hemingway also invented his own cocktail, Death in the Afternoon, named after his non-fiction book on bullfighting. Blending absinthe and Champagne, the author advises pouring the absinthe in the glass first then adding ice-cold Champagne until the drink attains an “opalescent milkiness.”
1: Charles Bukowski: Boilermaker
There was only ever going to be one writer topping our list: German-born, LA-based poet, novelist and short story writer Charles Bukowski. A prolific writer, Bukowski penned thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and sixty novels during his career. His focus on the lives of poor Americans led Time magazine to christen him a “laureate of American lowlife”.
Working as a filing clerk in an LA post office for over a decade, Bukowski viewed drinking as an escape from the drudgery of the daily grind. “Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It’s like killing yourself, and then you’re reborn. I guess I’ve lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now,” he once said.
While Bukowski drank anything he could get his hands on, his preferred poison was a Boilermaker, which combines a shot of whisky with beer, which Bukowski described as “a continuous lover”, served either as a mixer or a chaser. “That’s the problem with drinking. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen,” he admitted.