Whether used for inspiration or anesthesia, alcohol often makes a cameo role in the lives of artists. For this, our Arts edition, we feature the favorite drinks of some of the world’s greatest painters and writers. The next time you need inspiration – or just want to raise your glass to the history makers – try one of these classic cocktails.
PABLO PICASSO & VINCENT VAN GOGH: Absinthe
Absinthe was a favorite of both Picasso and Van Gogh – and these artists weren’t unique in their affection for this anise-flavored beverage. Depicted in multiple paintings, absinthe came to be known as the artists’ drink.
THE GREEN FAIRY
Absinthe is classified as a “spirit” rather than a liqueur because it is bottled with no added sugar. Its high level of alcohol can reach up to 70%, which may be one reason it was a favorite among many artists. Referred to as “the green fairy,” absinthe was banned from the U.S. and parts of Europe because it was thought to cause hallucinations. This rumor was later debunked allowing absinthe to resurface in the U.S. in the 1990s. With its reintroduction, mixologists have devised many creative ways to sample the spirit that inspired the great masters, and we’ve chosen one of the most singular interpretations.
First spotted in a book for mixed drinks published in 1916, the original chrysanthemum cocktail called for equal parts vermouth and Bénédictine, but was later altered. The drink blends to create a bright yellow liquid, leaving little question as to the inspiration of its name.
- 2 ounces dry vermouth
- 1 ounce Bénédictine
- 1/4 ounce absinthe
- Dash of orange bitters
- Orange peel for garnish
Stir all ingredients, except garnish in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, chill for one minute, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze orange peel over drink so that the oils fall into the glass, then drop peel into the drink to garnish.
It was rumored Bénédictine was created by an order of monks at the Benedictine Abbey of F.camp in Normandy as a medicinal beverage, and only three people in the world knew the secret recipe that included twenty-seven herbs and spices. Later, it was discovered that the story was a fantastic marketing tool to increase the mystery of this herbal liqueur. You’ll pick up traces of juniper berry flavor from the angelica herb, one of the main ingredients in a bottle of Bénédictine.
JOHN STEINBECK: The Jack Rose
This prolific American writer beautifully captured the essence of life in a bygone era in Southern California. Perhaps most famous for Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, his work was required reading for generations of school children, helping to shape the mores of a nation. Steinbeck is quoted as saying he has always “lived violently, drunk hugely … and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not a punishment.” His large living led to epic novels, and it’s likely that a few of them were celebrated by raising a glass of a Steinbeck favorite: the Jack Rose.
- 2 ounces Laird’s applejack brandy
- 1 ounce fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1/2 ounce grenadine
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup (optional)
- Apple slice for garnish
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an apple slice.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: Death in the Afternoon
One of the great American writers of the 20th Century, Hemingway published dozens of titles, including The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, and a famous work of non-fiction, Death in the Afternoon, which details the traditions and practices of Spanish bullfighting, a sport that fascinated Hemingway. A New York Times article published in 1932 describes Hemingway as an “authority” on the topic, claiming he had “seen fifteen hundred bulls killed on the field of honor.” The title of his book was also the name of one of Hemingway’s favorite drinks: a simple-but-potent cocktail that, again, features absinthe.
- 1 1/2 ounces absinthe
- 4 ounces cold Champagne
Pour absinthe into a Champagne flute. Add cold Champagne to the flute and serve.
“Pour one jigger of absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness.”
WILLIAM FAULKNER: Mint Julep
Acclaimed author William Faulkner was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, earning the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature and two Pulitzer Prizes in Fiction (A Fable, 1954; The Reivers, 1962), although he is best known for his early novel The Sound and the Fury. Not a bad résumé for a high-school dropout! Along with his contribution to literature, Faulkner is known to have had an affection for the mint julep, a decidedly southern drink appropriate for this Mississippi native.
- 2 ounces whiskey (preferably bourbon)
- Splash of water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- A sprig or two of crushed mint
Muddle the mint and sugar with a splash of water. Mix in whiskey. Pour over ice. Serve in a metal cup.
A favorite of Faulkner, the mint julep is also the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, held at Louisville’s famed thoroughbred racetrack, Churchill Downs. Today, Derby attendees can purchase mint juleps costing up to $1,000. Served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, these juleps are made using only Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint from Ireland, and sugar from Australia. Even the ice is special, formed from spring water straight out of the Bavarian Alps.