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Death In The Afternoon: A Brief History Of The Literary Cocktail

death in the afternoon

Legendary author Ernest Hemingway’s lasting legacy will always count two things: his books and cocktails. As seen in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, his characters are usually found nursing a drink. 

To be fair, we (well, most of us) drink to celebrate, drown our sorrow, remember, and forget. As do characters who are mere representations of our reality. So, it’s only natural to see cocktails crop up as writers of the screen and novel incorporate and weave them into their narratives. 

No wonder then, bars and pubs have gained popularity as landmarks solely because they were frequented by writers and artists who went on to become immortal in the literary world. Death In The Afternoon is one such cocktail that was not only devoured by the creatives but also earned a special spot in history. 

It is said that  Hemingway first created this drink during his time in Paris in the 1920s. The city back then was the place for artists, creatives, and thinkers as it was bursting with life, ideas, and enjoyment. Hemingway found that he fit perfectly into the Parisian lifestyle that was rather bohemian, and allowed his ideas to simply flow, giving birth to not only his signature cocktails but also two of his best works – The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms

In 1932, Hemingway wrote the non-fiction book Death In The Afternoon detailing the ceremony and traditions of Spanish bullfighting, which also contained the recipe for his cocktail. The recipe was then also published in Breath In The Afternoon – a cocktail book with recipes from famous authors. 

Hemingway’s original instructions were “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly," although we highly recommend that you stop at one. 

It is claimed that the drink was discovered by the writer along with three officers of H.M.S. Danae (the lead ship serving the Royal Navy) on board as they tried to get Capt. Bra Saunders’ fishing boat off a bank. The cocktail was known for its delicious taste as well as strength. If you’d like to recreate this at home, you’ll need 30 ml of absinthe and 125 ml of champagne. Pour the absinthe into a champagne flute and then top it off with chilled champagne. Enjoying your tipple in moderation is key.

Now, this cocktail has a lot of cultural and historical significance not only in the world of mixology but in the arts and literary world as well, inspiring mixologists to adapt and experiment with the recipe to create new libations as well as nudging writers to create recipes. The cocktail also resulted in the revival of absinthe which was a controversial drink, but there was significantly renewed interest in it after having Hemingway’s name and legacy attached to it.  This cocktail has become a literary icon, paying homage to Hemingway’s life and his adventurous spirit. Cheers to that!