Literature and Libations - a Visual Guide
"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Staring at a blank page is a daunting task for any writer. The first sentence of this article was rewritten at least six times before moving on to the second one. The battle to fill a never ending parade of blank sheets with fresh ideas is one that has been going on since the story of Gilgamesh. The task is even more daunting without autocorrect or the ability to edit without having to remake the tablet. When that happened, the Sumerian scribe that was tasked to rewrite the work probably reached for a beer to make the task go a little faster.
The relationship between strong drink and writing goes back centuries. In the eighth century, Homer is quoted as saying “No poem was ever written by a drinker of water.” It became stronger over time, with many writers becoming as famous for the amount of alcohol they consumed as they did for the words they put on the page. Ernest Hemingway was known for his copious amounts of consumption, with rum cocktails as his libation of choice (as detailed in Philip Greene's To Have and to Have Another, reviewed here). Whether it was downing Papa Dobles or Mojitos, his drinking habits are the stuff of legend. They would have to be to warrant your own life size bronze statue in the bar you used to frequent.
This relationship is not always a beneficial one. Stephen King drank so much at one point that he says he does not remember writing Cujo. Jack Kerouac died when his liver, which could no longer handle the amount of alcohol he was consuming, hemorrhaged. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s drinking in his younger years devastated his health, leading to his death at a relatively young age of forty-four. As much romance as we put into the freewheeling lifestyle of the writer, the costs of the profession can be incredibly high.
What writers poured into their glass to refill their creative juices varies, but many eventually came to whiskey as their drink of choice. It was common to find, good to drink, and as writer Raymond Chandler once opined, “There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.” You could find bourbon and rye on the Mississippi River, home to the amazing humorist Mark Twain, and George Bernard Shaw could enjoy Irish whiskey and Scotch while working on his plays in England. Some even switched: when Ian Fleming’s doctor hinted that bourbon may be SLIGHTLY better than the gin the James Bond creator was consuming, he immediately switched over.
The fine people at Signature Reads are keenly aware of the link between writers and their whiskey. They have composed an infographic that offers a brief glimpse of this tumultuous relationship, from where the greats enjoyed their spirits to what you can drink while you are reading. The book and cocktail pairing is my favorite part of the piece. Barrels of ink have been spilled writing on what to food to pair with whiskey. I want to know what peaty Scotch to consider when I reach for the heady wisdom of Nick Offerman in his book Gumption. Or a delightfully funny book in the vein of Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari? It looks like they may need another infographic. Until that one comes out, pour yourself a dram and enjoy learning more about whiskey and writing.