It’s Boozy Bookshelf time! Our monthly feature where our friends Marlene and Lucas of Famous Last Words Bar in Toronto review books of a boozy nature. This month, they hit up To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene and give us both of their opinions of said book.
If you’ve ever read the intro blurb to these reviews, you’ll know that we work at a literary-themed bar…so to say that this book is in our wheelhouse is probably a bit of an understatement. Throw in the fact that I used this rather liberally as a source for our Hemingway cocktail class, and you may question how objective this review can possibly be. But fear not, dear reader, because we are Professionals, and as such will cast the same critical eye on this tome as we have on all the others we’ve reviewed thus far. Let’s take it as a given that you’re going to get a lot more out of this book if you’re a Hemingway fan going in, and proceed with a broader audience in mind.
Philip Greene, the author of this Hemingway Cocktail Companion, is something of an enigma; his cocktail pedigree comes in part from being a member of the Peychaud family (yes, THOSE Peychauds) along with co-founding the Museum of the American Cocktail. By day, however, he’s a trademark lawyer, which explains the very judicious use of material from Papa’s books and the very thorough job he’s done of referencing all his sources. If that makes you think it’s going to be dry, you couldn’t be more wrong; peppered with amusing anecdotes and insider info about Hemingway’s (largely drinking-related) exploits across multiple continents, there are few dull moments in this book. Even if you’re not a huge fan of his novels, let’s face it: the man could drink. Throw in four marriages, friendships with the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald and Gertude Stein, and you can imagine the sort of interesting, booze-fueled romps we’re looking at – not least of which was the reported consumption of 68 ounces of rum in one sitting.
As to the book itself, it’s comprised of just over 60 short chapters, each beginning with a recipe, followed by a story of how it relates to Hemingway and, in many cases, an explanation of the base spirit used. You won’t find an in-depth description here of the distilling process, or illustrations of key bar tools, but you will find a page or two of history on less-covered liquids like Absinthe, Armagnac, Campari, and so on. Littered throughout are charming photos from Hemingway’s life – many holding up the bar at La Floridita – and old-timey advertisements for liqueurs and mixers. You feel as though you’re getting a real glimpse into an American literary icon, and although some of the anecdotes border on gossipy (possibly due to the source material; he sure did seem to have a lot of affairs) Greene paints a vivid, if slightly rosy picture of a romantic time and place.
A few quibbles with the structure: the recipes – and therefore the ‘chapters’ – are arranged alphabetically…so we get the Americano near the beginning, followed shortly thereafter by the Campari, Gin & Soda, and then, some 150 pages later, the Negroni. Fortunately the table of contents makes it quite easy to find what you might be looking for, but I can’t help thinking that organizing it chronologically, or by cocktail type, or even by the novel or context in which they appear would have provided a bit more coherence. I also found it to drag a bit in the middle; there are more than 60 cocktails in here, some of which could possibly have been grouped together or omitted altogether (Perhaps Gin, Lemon & Wild Strawberries could have been combined with Scotch with Lemon & Wild Strawberries? And do we really need a recipe and a chapter dedicated to, say, Scotch & Lime juice?)
The good news is that all the recipes are very approachable (Papa once famously remarked “No sugar. No fancying.”) so the number of obscure ingredients is quite small. You could easily make the vast majority of these drinks on a reasonably well-stocked home bar, and that’s certainly a refreshing departure from many of the books we’ve crossed paths with. Jillian Vose and a number of other notable bar folks have contributed to the final section called “Papa’s Legacy” which provides their takes on some Hemingway classics, but even then the ingredients aren’t too far out in left field (many just seem take classic specs and add Absinthe, a hack of which I have to think Hemingway would approve). And although I’m tempted to point out that Greene can sometimes get a touch overzealous in his use of exclamation points, I’ve been known to go a *little* overboard on punctuation myself so I’m prepared to let that slide.
While this book isn’t going to teach you technique or challenge you with wild ingredients it may well make you want to whip up a Jack Rose and read a novel or two. And in my book, that’s never a bad thing.
Marlene’s Last Word: Hemingway fans will particularly like this in-depth look at his life and his work; cocktail fans will appreciate the history and simplicity. As coffee table books go you could do much, much worse, and for any bartenders who also consider themselves to be storytellers (and aren’t we all, really?) there are some truly great anecdotes to be recounted. To borrow Hemingway’s own words, “Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.”
To Have and Have Another is another fine example of a well-made book with a very specific and limited audience. In this case, the audience is people who want to drink like Hemingway. While my American lit education means that I recognize the references the book makes, and the whole “book bar” thing means that the topic should be near and dear to my heart, To Have and Have Another never really felt like a book to be read over a few sessions. Instead, it joins a few of our other recent reviews as a book to put on a coffee table or in the bathroom and pick up when you have a few minutes here or there.
The book itself is simply laid out, with plenty of black and white photos from the historical Hemingway archives or of contemporary products and advertisements, mostly taken from the author’s Museum of the American Cocktail. Rather than being organized in a chronological or narrative through-line, the book is structured by an alphabetical listing of drinks that appeared in the works (or at least, verifiably, the hands) of Hemingway. While this allows for easy reference when finding drinks, it leads to a lot of repetition (the main conflict in The Garden of Eden is explained at many times, as a lot of drinking happens at that point in the novel) and some confusion.
At several points I was left wondering if the book’s organization was quite different in earlier drafts. For example, the eventual definition of sours (and the explanation of the mutability of that classic subset of drinks) is referenced several times, but does not appear until the chapter for the White Lady. Other than the list of modern cocktails that follows, the White Lady is literally the last drink of the book, which means that, while the definition’s location is clearly signposted throughout the book, anyone reading the book in sequential order will end up not learning the essential and simple definitions of a basic and oft-referenced drinks category until the end of the book. That said, the organization of the book is solid, with sidebars and asides intelligently following related chapters and a very thorough index.
Ultimately, while the drinks themselves are given the headlines, To Have and Have Another is not really about them — they serve as a means to reference the works of Hemingway and tell stories about his life. How useful the drinks (and their sometimes unique specs) are to a bartender, be they casual or professional, comes down to how much said bartender wants to drink like Hemingway. After all, the man had his own idea of how drinks should be balanced (no sweet) and served (as cold as possible, regardless of what the drink was), as well as how they should be consumed (vigorously and to excess). While I trust some of his contemporaries, like the happily-referenced Charles H. Baker Jr., a bit more than I trust Hemingway’s tastes, few could write about drinking like Hemingway. At one point, reading along did give me a powerful thirst that could only solved in tribute to the man with a freezingly cold whiskey, soda, lime, and bitters. Regardless of what you think about Papa (or his writing), he was a first-class romantic when it came to describing drinks.
Lucas’s Last Word: Another book that does what it says on the tin: tells the reader exactly what Hemingway drank and how the reader can drink like him. For those in the target audience, it’s a briskly written, heavily researched, and engaging distraction.