I was asked many different things during my time as a bartender, ranging from kind-hearted conversation starters like “what new recipes are you working on” to the D.C. classic “so, what’s your real job?” Luckily, most of the time, it was me asking the questions, particularly so I could suss out a cocktail that suited my guest’s desires. In terms of offering a drink recommendation, or when asked to create something special, the single most used phrase was “I want something sweet, but not too sweet.” Its consistency has become a long-running joke in the industry, and all bartenders will tell you they hear this all the time.
Since I am no longer in the position to hear this running commentary day in and day out, I’m staging a one-man protest in solidarity with former comrades in arms still arrayed behind their barricades. As a result, I would like to share three Ernest Hemingway original cocktails that are the driest drinks you’ve hopefully never had.
Death in the Gulf Stream
Ernest Hemingway’s directives for his Death in the Gulf Stream recipe followed the rule of “No sugar. No fancying.” It should be known that this could be said for his other creations as well. As with most great drinks, the history is a bit murky with this one: It was either conceived in 1922 at the Hotel Ritz in London, or in 1937 somewhere in Key West. Either way, it was a hangover cure (can’t imagine why he’d need one of those) that he described as “reviving and refreshing.”
In a Collins glass, insert your lime spiral and add lime juice. Use a muddler to release the oils of the lime peel; a few soft muddles will work. Add ice to the glass and pour the genever, dash the Angostura bitters, and stir with your barspoon to combine. Make sure your lime peel is hanging a bit off the top for proper garnish and enjoy!
Our next concoction appeared in Hemingway’s autobiographical novel Islands in the Stream, and is another sugarless creation named the Green Isaac’s Special. Named after the Great Isaac Cay Bahamian island, this drink is a dry, tart, and refreshing libation that should come out a “rusty, rose colour [sic].” Once you take a sip and feel “the cold that had the sharpness of the lime, the aromatic varnishy taste of the Angostura and the gin stiffening the lightness of the ice-cold coconut water,” you’ll feel like the protagonist of your own island adventure.
Green Isaac’s Special
– 2 Oz. London dry gin
– 4 Oz. Unsweetened coconut water
– ¾ ounces of fresh squeezed lime juice
– 5 dashes of Angostura bitters
Chill a Collins glass and set aside. Build all ingredients to your shaker tin and top with ice. Shake for 8–10 seconds and double strain with your Hawthorne and tea strainers into your chilled Collins glass. Add fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and enjoy. For an added summer taste, you can add some fresh mint, either as leaves into the shaker or as a garnish for the finished product (don’t forget to slap the mint before use!).
Setting aside Hemingway’s penchant for dying, I felt obliged to share this other libation given to us by the literary legend. The Death in the Afternoon cocktail recipe shows up in the 1935 cocktail book So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon, but it was most likely created in the 1920s when Hemingway was lounging around Paris’s Left Bank with an artistic crowd that was surely no match for him.
Death in the Afternoon
– 1½ Oz. Absinthe
– 4 Oz. chilled Champagne
Chill a champagne flute. You have two options now: Follow the original recipe, which omits the following step and calls for you to pour the absinthe then slowly add champagne until it reaches maximum opalescence, or follow me instead. Grab a mixing glass and add absinthe and ice. Stir for a few seconds until it becomes milky white. Now add that to the flute with a julep strainer and slowly add champagne. This is a dry and boozy beauty that is really a behemoth, and therefore it warrants sipping instead of slugging.
Our palettes in the States typically prefer sweet to any other flavor, as can be seen by the abundance of sugars and syrups in our daily lives. However, many people stray away from these sweets for reasons of health, taste, or preference. In Hemingway’s case, he was a diabetic like his father before him (who ended up committing suicide as a result of his illnesses, a path his son would later follow) and strayed from sugar on doctor’s orders. Whatever your reason for drinking, it is time to bring dry cocktails back into your life and expand your horizons by reshaping your taste buds. I hope that the next time you snag a seat at the bar, instead of your bartender hearing the same old lines, bring a smile to their face and yours by remembering one of these Hemingway favorites.
Andre Gziryan is a Soviet-born American who prefers G.I. Joe to Uncle Joe. He is a former barman who currently works as an international trade analyst at the Department of Commerce. What he lacks in military knowledge he makes up for with a love of all things creative and spirituous.
Photo credit: SharonaGott