Author Of To Have And Have Another, A Hemingway Cocktail Companion
Philip Greene, founding member of The Museum of the American Cocktail and writer of To Have And Have Another
, A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, has taken a few minutes from his busy schedule with his career in law, book tours, and family life in order to answer a few questions pertaining to the book. His To Have and Have Another, A Hemingway Cocktail Companion does an amazing job exploring the drinking details of Hemingway’s life and characters’ lives without bogging the reader down with snoozy details. Part collection of Papa anecdotes, part recipe book, part deep insight, the book is a true page-turner. I’m a huge Hemingway fan and have always noticed, and been thrilled by, the writer’s use of spirits and cocktails, as well as food, in his stories and novels, but Phil Greene presents the lion’s share of them to us in a way that’s like discovering Hemingway’s love of drinking and it’s social importance in literature for the first time. Very cool book, very cool guy. Let’s see if we can ask him some off-the-beaten-path type questions.
1) Mister Booze – Obvious question Phil, but one I gotta ask. How did you make the transition from Hemingway reader and fan to Hemingway cocktail guy? What turned you on about and to his numerous cocktail references?
Phil Greene: I guess it makes sense to go back to how I became “a cocktail guy,” and that begins with my being a history buff. A history major in college, I’ve always been fascinated with the stories, context, personalities, etc. of any given thing. I went to law school in New Orleans, learned to cook there, and in a city with such a rich food and drink culture, a history buff simply cannot resist learning all about the stories behind gumbo, jambalaya, Oysters Rockefeller, the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, Hurricane, and all of the other fascinating (and delicious) local fare. So I became a “cocktail historian” based on my New Orleans experience (and roots, see, I’m related to Antoine Peychaud, creator of Peychaud’s Bitters and the original Sazerac). Meanwhile, I’ve loved Hemingway, both his work and his fascinating life, since high school. I always enjoyed how well he described things, so you could actually experience them, including food and drink. So, about 20 years ago I started to take note of certain drinks, wanting to try them myself. The first time I can remember was in Florida, while reading Islands in the Stream, I had fresh limes and coconuts available, so I made a Green Isaac’s Special. 1989, no turning back after that! Remember that great Washington Post column around 2004 about searching for the Jack Rose, that got both of us thinking, there are other people like us out there! And it wasn’t just Hemingway; I also enjoyed how Ian Fleming would tell the reader exactly what James Bond was having for breakfast, or what drink he was having. I think he might have even mentioned if it was shaken or stirred.
2) Mr. Booze – Did the Hemingway estate condone or help out with your book … or did they want to keep Papa’s love of a stiff drink under the radar, so to speak?
Phil Greene: Very good question. I did not contact them while writing the book. I had the sense that the family would be uncomfortable with any glorification of his drinking, that it could be done in an irreverent or disrespectful manner. I wanted to be able to show it to them after it was written, so they could judge it on its merits, as a published work, and not in the abstract, something unknown to fear. In my book, while I do acknowledge that he likely drank too much, it’s very respectful while remaining fun and light. It’s not a collection of boozy war stories celebrating excessive drinking. Since the book has been published, I am happy to say that the Hemingway family has, coincidentally, given their blessings to an amazing new venture called the Hemingway Rum Company. They’ve just launched a pair of rums, under the Papa’s Pilar name, that are made by some of the leading experts in the field. Papa’s Pilar has won gold medals in two major competitions already. Well, I’m now doing some consulting and brand ambassador work for them, and, by extension, my book and I have received an informal “blessing,” if you will, from the Hemingway family. That means the world to me. I’ve heard my book described as “a love letter.” That works.
3) Mr. Booze – While in Europe, after WWI, and as a literary member of Gertrude Stein’s coined “Lost Generation,” Hemingway was in the midst of a Cocktail Revolution as America slogged thru Prohibition. Do you feel that Hemingway’s actual location during a European Cocktail Revolution had much to do with his use of booze in his stories? Or was he just a drinker to begin with who happened to be in the right place at the right time?
Phil Greene: Great observation, Mr. B! While of course he was a drinker and was going to be one wherever he was, he happened to be (as he was in many respects) where the action was with respect to cocktails. Paris in the 1920’s was home to bartending legends such as Harry MacElhone (Harry’s New York Bar), Jimmie Charters (the Dingo and many other famous Left Bank bars), and of course, the Crillon and Ritz, and all the other great cafes (Closerie de Lilas, the Select, Brasserie Lipp, et al.). Then you have him often traveling to Madrid (where he befriended the great barman Pedro Chicote), and Venice (Giuseppe Cipriani, Harry’s Bar), later on Cuba (Constante Ribailagua of the Floridita), and so on. He knew where great drinks were being made, and the places, the drinks and the people all helped him in adding depth and character to his prose.
4) Mr. Booze – Did Hemingway come up with any of his own cocktails or did he just enjoy the efforts of great bartenders?
Phil Greene: Another good question. It’s a good mix. Many of the 55 cocktails in my book are “off the rack,” so to speak (Negroni, Jack Rose, Americano, Whiskey & Soda, Gimlet, etc.), but many are either his own creations (Green Isaac’s Special, the Death in the Afternoon, Death in the Gulf Stream, many others) or his own variations on classics (such as his uber-dry Montgomery Martini, using frozen onions, or his Angostura bitters-laced Gin & Tonic, or adding grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur to his Daiquiri). In my book, you’ll find a great cross-section of standard classics that are representative of his life and times plus his own takes on those classics.
5) Mr. Booze – He lived all over the world, but in any of his houses did Hemingway have an actual bar, or did he just use a massive & masculine table?
Phil Greene: I am not aware of any of his houses having a formal bar, you know, with a foot rail, all that. You can see photos of his tabletop bar in Cuba, at the Finca Vigia, it’s exactly as he left it. There are dusty bottles of Campari, Havana Club, Old Forrester Bourbon, Schweppe’s Tonic Water, you name it. I suspect that he preferred to sit in an easy chair when he drank, that he’d do his time on actual barstools when he was at the Floridita, La Terrazza, Sloppy Joe’s, or other of his favorite watering holes.
6) Mr. Booze – How did Ernest handle sobriety? Did he stay off the sauce for any lengthy periods?
Phil Greene: He did, indeed. At various times, either by doctor’s orders or through his own determination, he’d go on the wagon. He’d especially want to get into shape before starting a book, comparing it to a boxer going into training before a fight. Late in life, his doctor ordered him to cut back, one cocktail (which he’d nurse as long as he could, it was often Scotch and fresh lime juice), and perhaps some wine. In a letter he wrote to poet Archibald MacLeish in 1945, he noted that “It’s good for us both to lay off the old liquor too; but by God it’s dull work doing it. I’d like to hunt and fish the rest of my life and be just drunk enough to sleep well every night… But instead I’ve got to write, and boil the liquor out to be able to write my best, and get my sensitivity back to be able to write where (I) have sort of burned it away in war. Hell of a job.” Biographer Carlos Baker quoted him as saying drinking was a “release,” “the irresponsibility that comes after the terrible responsibility of writing.” Writing left him emotionally and physically spent. “When I hit New York,” he once observed to his friend Earl Wilson, “it is like someone coming off a long cattle drive hitting Dodge City in the old days.”
7) Mr. Booze – In terms of drinking and cocktails, and night-spots associated with the two, did you discover any Hemingway imbibing surprises? Did he like any frou-frou cocktails, that sort of thing?
Phil Greene: As for the venues, no, no surprises there. He liked places that had character, not window dressing. He didn’t mind getting cleaned up on rare occasions (such as going to the 21 Club or Stork Club in New York, or Harry’s Bar and the Gritti Palace in Venice, and of course, the Ritz Paris), but often as not he’d want a place to relax. Sloppy Joe’s in Key West was a bit of a dive; in fact, when in Key West, he disdained the Casa Marina (I honeymooned there!) because he didn’t like to get dressed up. He liked to wear his “odiferous Basque shorts” after fishing, have his drinks and not worry about appearances. As for the drinks, knowing of his disdain for sugar in later years, it’s hard to find any frou-frou drinks. The two drinks that are on the sweeter side are the Gimlet and the Jack Rose. Both are solid drinks, mind you, but they can be sweet(ish). You see the Jack Rose in his earlier work, the 1926 classic The Sun Also Rises. He was only 27, likely not worried about sugar back then. Occasionally, you’ll see a drink like the White Lady (Islands in the Stream), or the Cuba Libre (To Have and Have Not), which he likely used to say something about the drinker (rich people on a yacht or a crass tourist), so you get the sense that he’s saying something about the people who are drinking those drinks. There’s a great scene in Islands where he has to defend the Gin & Tonic as not being frou-frou. The bartender, Mr. Bobby, would rather serve a shot and a beer, it seems, at his Bimini dive bar. “To hell with those fancy drinks,” he complains.
8) Mr. Booze – I know they switched according to age, mood, situation and temperament, but did Hemingway have a favorite cocktail throughout his life?
Phil Greene: Several. He learned to love Campari when he was convalescing from wounds in World War I in Italy, age 19, and he was drinking Americanos, Negronis and variations thereon through his life. Same goes for the Martini; in a 1919 letter he boasted of having 15 Martinis (good Lord!), though he did prefer them to be small. The Daiquiri was a favorite from his Key West days (circa age 30) through his life, especially in Cuba. The Whiskey & Soda (the #1 drink in terms of frequency of mentions in his prose) is found throughout his life as well. It’s tough to pinpoint one particular drink. He loved gin calling Gordon’s Gin “one of the sovereign antiseptics of our time…,” noting it “of approved merit and can be counted on to fortify, mollify and cauterize practically all internal or external injuries.” In Islands, he praises the Gin & Tonic: “It tastes good to me. I like the quinine taste with the lime peel. I think it sort of opens up the pores of the stomach or something. I get more of a kick out of [it] than any other gin drink. It makes me feel good.”
9) Mr. Booze – Did the effort involved in the anecdotal collecting pertaining to the drinking life of so famous a writer ultimately influence you and your appreciation for cocktails? Did Papa influence how you now drink?
Phil Greene: Yes, in any number of ways. From the standpoint of what to drink, he introduced me to a couple of initially off-putting drinks that I originally didn’t like, notably Campari and Holland gin, and of course, absinthe. Try a Death in the Gulf Stream (Holland gin, lime, Angostura bitters and crushed ice) and see if you don’t agree, it’s a hell of a good drink. Have a Negroni or an Americano, both acquired tastes but well worth the acquisition. But in other ways, deciding what to drink, is there any ceremony (as with dripped absinthe) that should be observed, or should you drink what the locals are drinking, to better immerse yourself into your surroundings, taste the terroir, so to speak. Also, of course, the cautionary side, being mindful of not drinking too much, the discipline required.
10) Mr. Booze – Completely off subject but what we always want to know here at Mr. Booze, tell us about your home bar and the gatherings held ’round it.
Phil Greene: It’s not at my own home, but that of my dad, down on Chesapeake Bay. There are actually two of them; one is a beachside bar, right on the water, great views, very rustic. I built it out of scrap lumber from an old deck, and fashioned drink racks from bamboo cut from the neighbor’s yard! The indoor bar is a great collection of kitschy stuff from our travels, many stories behind each item, not to mention a collection of water samples from around the world. It’s an odd collection, but in tiny jars there might be water (and maybe sand) from a beach in Hawaii or the Cook Islands, or water from the Mississippi River in New Orleans, the fountains of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you name it. It’s cool to look at that water and think “that’s snow melt from the peak of Mount Tongariro in New Zealand,” or “that’s from the Great Barrier Reef.” And of course I have some great old bar books, many signed by my friends in the biz, from Dale DeGroff to Ted Haigh to Jeff Beachbum Berry to Dave Wondrich. And an old phonograph, to play Frank, Bing, Nat, Dean, Sammy, Chet, Ella, love the old standards. And lots of framed ads from the 30s – 50s, clipped out of old magazines. Gotta get down there soon, Mr. B!
11) Mr. Booze – (sneaking in an extra) What is your favorite Hemingway inspired cocktail? Why? Can you please share the recipe with us.
Phil Greene: A popular question, and one that is going to change often, but right now it’s a toss-up between the 1920s version of the Jack Rose that I found in Barflies and Cocktails, by Harry MacElhone, and the Bailey, made by Hemingway’s friend Gerald Murphy. The former is a bit of work, an odd combination of the Bronx Cocktail and the standard Jack Rose, but really exquisite, and the latter is a really nice mix of the Hemingway Daiquiri and Mojito, but with gin!
The Jack Rose – Harry MacElhone’s 1920s Paris recipe:
- 1 ½ oz Applejack or Calvados
- ¾ oz dry gin
- ¾ oz orange juice
- ¾ oz fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1/3 oz French vermouth
- 1/3 oz Italian vermouth
- Grenadine to colour (about 1/3 oz)
Shake well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- 1½ oz gin
½ oz grapefruit juice
½ oz fresh lime juice
1 tsp simple syrup (optional)
1 sprig mint
Gerald Murphy instructs (from a letter to Alexander Woollcott):[i]:
“The mint should be put in the shaker first. It should be torn up by hand as it steeps better. The gin should be added then and allowed to stand a minute or two. Then add the grapefruit juice and then the lime juice. Stir vigorously with ice and do not allow to dilute too much, but serve very cold, with a sprig of mint in each glass.”
12) Mr. Booze – Following the book up with anything, or working on anything booze related you’d like to share?
Phil Greene: I’m very busy promoting the book for now and more events are in the works!