A Drinkable Feast: A Cocktail Companion to 1920s Paris.
In the minds of countless readers, there is a strong connection between Ernest Hemingway and alcohol. The popular conception of Hemingway is that of the hard living, hard drinking writer, never far from a glass of whiskey or rum. It is this image that Philip Greene engages with in his 2012 book, To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. With To Have and Have Another. Greene wrote a book he described as "a book about Ernest Hemingway and what he liked to drink, what he wrote about those drinks, and how to make the drinks that he and his characters enjoyed," crafting "a celebration of both his life and his writing, and the sensory aspect of his writings with respect to drink" (xxi). But even after writing this thorough and well-researched book, there was still plenty left in the proverbial bottle for Greene to explore about the drinking choices of great writers like Hemingway.
Greene's second book, entitled A Drinkable Feast: A Cocktail Companion to 1920s Paris, flows out of that first book, building off his explorations of Hemingway and widening his purview to include all the writers and artists and thinkers living in Paris during the Jazz Age who, along with Hemingway, made the French capital city the epicenter of art and culture of that time. In this collection of drink recipes paired with anecdotes that reflect their importance, Greene creates not just a helpful addition to the library of amateur mixologists everywhere but also a form of history of that important time and place.
Greene sets out in A Drinkable Feast to tell "the stories of the cocktails, cafes, and cabarets of Paris in the 1920s" (xvi), developing "a distillation of the most popular and interesting drinks, and those that brought with them the best stories and connections to the notable people and places of the era" (1). Rather than telling the story of 1920s Paris in a more conventional fashion, focusing on dates and events, Greene discerns what the people did--specifically what they drank--as a way of giving us this image of a city overflowing with new ideas and change. "Like no other city," Greene observes, "the sidewalk cafes of Paris are an essential part of the city, part of its signature" (19). Given the importance of those cafes to the essence of Paris during that time, focusing on their story and what transpired (and was consumed) in those places is perhaps the best way to understand that moment in time. In his foreword to A Drinkable Feast, John Hemingway writes that Greenes "passion for Paris in the twenties recalls not only the cocktails of that time and the people who made and drank them, but also everything about that era that was crazy and wonderful, over the top and subversive ... captur[ing] the vitality, beauty, and creative effervescence of Paris perfectly" (xiii). Bottling some of that Parisian "effervescence" is best done through this interest in the drinks of that moment.
Greene makes it clear why a place like Paris would have been an attractive destination for Americans looking to leave behind a country that was trending towards the repressive and stultifying in the 1920s. "Many expat Americans were repulsed not only by the carnage of [World War I]," Greene writes, "but also by what they saw taking place in America, notably Prohibition" (xvii), which became the law of the land in the United States with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1919 and enforced by the Volstead Act, enacted in 1920. Greene notes how "[i]n that great American tradition of popular dissent, Harry's New York Bar," which he describes was "a home away from home" for many of the American expatriates in Paris at that time, "featured at least four cocktails lampooning Prohibition" (226) with its owner exhibiting "a keen awareness of the commercial benefits of offering an oasis for Yanks in Paris" as "its name, its furnishings, its solid American cocktails, and its promotion" (226) all alluded to the United States.
But the vital aspect one must consider about a book like A Drinkable Feast is the quality of the recipes included. In that regard, Greene's book is a pro-found success. Greene amasses an impressive collection of over fifty popular cocktails in Paris during the 1920s, culled from cocktail guides and recipe books from the time. By turning to contemporary cocktail guides, Greene gives a more authentic sense of what it was like to drink in that time, as certain drink recipes have changed according to the tastes and preferences of the moment. The cocktails compiled in A Drinkable Feast range from the straightforward and conventional (for example, the Manhattan and Martini) to the more esoteric and unusual (such as the Monkey Gland, the Spirit of St. Louis, and your reviewers favorite, Harry Crosby's Bal Des Quat'Z'Arts "Tremendous Punch"). Greene finds drinks for every kind of palate and flavor profile, from the sweet to the bitter, the strong to the light. Even if you are someone who only enjoys the occasional cocktail, you can find a drink you will enjoy in A Drinkable Feast. Though the drinks may seem complex and call to mind a more exotic time and place, Greene makes it both easy and simple for one to drink as though they were sitting at the Cafe du Dome, the Cafe de la Rotonde, or the Dingo Bar.
One particularly helpful inclusion from Greene are the "Tasting Notes" that come along with each drink, suggestions about how one might slightly augment the drink given their own preferences or to have an experience closer to that of someone in Paris during the age of the Lost Generation. The way in which parts of these drinks are produced and how they taste have changed since the 1920s, so following the recipe might not produce the same taste as what one might have experienced at the time. The recipe for the Scoff-Law Cocktail calls for half-an-ounce of grenadine but Greene notes that you want to use "a true (pomegranate) grenadine," closer to the tarter grenadine used in the 1920s, rather than "one with fructose corn syrup and red food coloring" like one generally finds today (180). Greene also helps readers not acquainted with the different liquors to understand what flavor each ingredient is bringing to the given cocktail and how they might want to adjust their proportions according to taste. Greene includes in his note for the Monkey Gland cocktail that it "is an acquired taste ... basically an Orange Blossom [another drink featured in the book] with a little absinthe and grenadine" and that "[i]f you find the absinthe overpowering, you can cut it back" (145). When it comes to having a good experience making these drinks and discovering what exactly one enjoys to drink, these notes and suggestions are invaluable, especially those regarding liquors and ingredients that one might not commonly use (such as absinthe). Even a well-known drink such as the Mimosa allows for subtle augmentations and variations as Greene notes how that drink "can be personalized and embellished" as "[i]n some recipes, Grand Marnier is added, and many believe this to be the original formula" (139).
In addition to the drinks and the instructions on how to make them, Greene amasses anecdotes and stories about the creation of the given drink and their importance to the Paris scene. These "vignettes and histories regarding the cocktails and the artists," John Hemingway explains in his foreword, allow the reader to "hear the siren call of the surrealists and the Lost Generation" (xiii-xiv) and imagine that they are sharing these drinks with Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald or James Joyce at a Parisian cafe. One example comes in the entry on The Sidecar; Greene writes, "the creator of the [drink] remains an unsolved cocktail mystery" even as it "was quite popular in 1920s Paris" with "Novelist Carl Van Vechten featuring] the Sidecar throughout his novel Parties: Scenes from Contemporary New York Life" (186-87). Greene discusses the "interesting 'creation theories'" for the Jack Rose cocktail as well, noting how the recipe he included from 1927's Barflies and Cocktails "had taken on a few extra ingredients" because it was more indicative of how "the drink was being made in 1920s Paris" (110). Greene even wonders "if perhaps this version of the Jack Rose is what Jake Barnes was drinking while awaiting his star-crossed lover, Brett ... a too-complicated drink for an inextricably tangled relationship" (110-11). Even simple drinks like the Whiskey and Soda or the Whiskey Sour feature vignettes that give them more color in our minds and allow us to better contextualize them within Lost Generation-era Paris. Greene writes of the Whiskey and Soda's appearances in Hemingway's writing, highlighting the scenes in The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and A Moveable Feast where the highball appears. In the entry on the Whiskey Sour, Greene recounts story of Hemingway's infamous trip from Lyon to Paris during which Hemingway served Fitzgerald whiskey sours to counteract Fitzgerald's fears "he'd contracted congestion of the lungs" (235) after encountering rainstorms on a drive. Even if you have been ordering and drinking these drinks for many years, the stories and information that Greene provides in A Drinkable Feast will enhance your drinking experience.
In A Drinkable Feast, Greene has crafted another cocktail book that will pique the interest of the Hemingway aficionado and Lost Generation scholar, following in the footsteps of his 2012 publication To Have and Have Another. With A Drinkable Feast, Greene has proven himself to once again be an expert on the connections between Hemingway's world and alcohol, developing a book that serves as both fascinating history of a major period in history as well as useful resource for making some of the best and most famous cocktails.
Florida State University
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|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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