Weekend with Hemingway Part 16: Death in The Afternoon
Due to its strong flavour, absinthe has been combined with other ingredients since its creation.
Sugar and water is the standard accompaniment but there have been several cocktails created over the years including the Absinthe Sazerac and the Chrysanthemum.
This cocktail appears in the 1935 book, So Red the Nose or Breath in the Afternoon. The authors, Sterling North and Carl Kroch asked 30 writers to concoct an original holiday cocktail and name it after one of their books. Hemingway is the first entry in the book. He writes, “This was arrived at by the author and three officers of H.M.S. Danae after having spent seven hours overboard trying to get Capt. Bra Saunders’ fishing boat off a bank where she had gone with us in a N. W. gale.”
Many of the authors would be unfamiliar to modern readers but there is a great Tarzan Cocktail by Edgar Rice Burroughs and something that looks a lot like a Whiskey Sour from Arnold Gingrich the creator and editor of Esquire magazine.
This is a very difficult book to find. I found one on Amazon for $165 (US) but you can see a pdf version online.
120ml (approx.) Champagne
Hemingway’s instruction: “Pour 1 jigger of absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink 3 to 5 of these slowly.
In 1950 Hemingway agreed to be interviewed by New Yorker journalist, Lillian Ross. Her article, How do you like it now, gentlemen? is an intimate portrait of the man, warts and all. In it he states, “If I have any money, I can’t think of any better way of spending money than on champagne.”
He mentions several brands of champagne in his writing but my favourite entry is in a letter to his publisher, Charles Scribner in 1949.
“To celebrate my fiftieth birthday I f….d three times, shot ten straight at pigeons (very fast ones) at the club, drank with five friends a case of Piper Heidsick (sic) Brut and looked the ocean for big fish all afternoon.”
It is perhaps a fiftieth birthday to be envied. I doubt mine will be as eventful, not least because I have no idea where I would find ten pigeons. I think I may have to settle for the Piper-Heidsieck.
This is a very fast acting cocktail and not one to be taken lightly. After a few sips I was shocked by how quickly the alcohol hit me. However, given the absinthe was 69% proof and it was being driven through my body at the rate of knots by the champagne, I should have expected it. Hemingway mentions drinking three to five but I am not convinced I could get past two despite my well exercised liver. At least he does suggest doing it slowly. Perhaps this is one of those occasions where the well-known Hemingway exaggeration has taken over.