Looking for a tipple that is both illustrious and lethal? Why not try Ernest Hemingway's most decadent of cocktails, the Death in the Afternoon.
A notoriously hearty drinker, Mr Hemingway’s tastes were somewhat more cultivated than many 20th century writers who succumbed to the perils of liquor. With a penchant for a well shaken cocktail - dry martinis in particular - rumours of old Papa’s drinking habits were elaborate, often fabricated by establishments which he had visited looking to gain fame from his name.
But tall tales do, after all, make for excellent alcohol folklore and one such story tells of the writer inventing the Bloody Mary one evening in a Parisian bar. His fourth wife Mary had, along with the doctor, forbade him from drinking alcohol, so Hemingway asked the waiter to concoct a drink that would mask the boozy smell. The spicy, pungent ‘Bloody Mary’ was born, and named after his ‘bloody wife’.
But back to our chosen poison, a potent union of absinthe and champagne. The Death in the Afternoon was Hemingway’s personal contribution to the 1935 compendium of cocktails 'So Red the Nose or Breath in the Afternoon'. An extreme celebration of mixology, the book showcased thirty recipes imagined up by some of the finest American literary stars of the era, and was collected by two strong bellied authors, Sterling North and Carl Kroch. Now a rare, hard to find tome, the book is peppered with a spectacular array of cartoons (some of a questionable nature by today's standards), witty passages, and of course marvellous cocktail titles, including ‘The Barbarians’ (Virginia Faulkner’s bourbon and mint over ice) and ‘Fun in Bed’ (Frank Skulley’s Applejack and grape juice medley).
Of course, even by the thirties writers had garnered a reputation for being fond of a heavy booze up, but it wasn’t simply that they were revelling in their supposed stereotype, or that they found their inspiration at the bottom of a brandy sniffer. While cocktails were initially introduced in the 19th century, it was during the 1920s prohibition period that they truly found their raison d’être, and the book was more of a celebration that a long chapter of dry agony had finished.
With the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal throughout the United States, illicitly brewed stashes of gin, or similar bathtub spirit, were commonly peddled in illegal speakeasy bars. Often lacking the delectable taste a spirit should, fruits, flora and other ingredients became a popular addition to mask the poor quality. Short, sweet and strong, the cocktail also had the advantage of being easily downed should a raid take place, meaning not a drop would be wasted. On the continent meanwhile, cocktails became all the rage, as vodka was introduced by Russian immigrants and Americans flocked to the bars of Paris and London to get a taste of what they were missing at home.
Before we give you this dangersome recipe, we would like to point out that the chances of reaching Hemingway’s talents of wordsmithery are unlikely to come from drinking this trenchant tipple. In fact, Hemingway denied ever drinking whilst putting words on the page:
“Jeezus 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.”
Rather, if following the Red Nose’s instructions of knocking back three to five Hemingway specials, you are likely to end up utterly illegible, cross eyed, and holding onto the floor. However, for the full facts about alcohol, do some research, and above all, trust your better judgement, not ours.
“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.”