Drinkers with a Writing Problem

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The typical image of a writer is a person slumped over a keyboard, face unshaven, hair unkempt, a cigarette fuming into the air beside a furrowed brow, a glass of whiskey in hand and a half-empty bottle on the table - man, I really need to stop looking in the mirror when I write these things…

But truth be told, the writer as a drinker is an iconic image from Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde to Jack Kerouac and Raymond Carver. The ink, it seems, is in the pen if the spirits are in the blood. This stereotype is true enough that there’s even a Bartending Guide to Great American Writers where you can find the favored libations of some of the craft’s greatest practitioners. Faulkner liked Mint Juleps, Anne Sexton loved Martinis, and Hunter S. Thompson had parts of his body osmotically replaced with Chivas Regal.

The old adage is for writers to write what they know, and with all this imbibing going on it’s not surprising that raging benders and blinding hangovers have become plot points and sometimes the topic of entire novels. Writers have even thought up their own cocktails; for instance, Hemingway devised his own daiquiri and Ian Fleming cooked up the Vesper Martini. Naturally enough, if a writer drinks, and writers create drinks, then there will be a plethora of drinks named after writers and for their books. Who wouldn’t want a Douglas Adams Pangalactic Gargleblaster chaser for a Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner?

Fine dining touts beverage pairings and a good sommelier can tell you what wine will match your confit of beef tongue on a brioche with salsa verde and a fried egg, so why not a sommelier for books? Go ahead, put on some Beethoven, mix 8 oz whole milk, 1 1.9 oz 5-Hour Energy bottle, 1.5 oz vodka and a few ice cubes in a Collins glass and stir with a dagger for a sip of Milk-Plus while you read A Clockwork Orange. If that’s a bit too much, fly to Baltimore and pick up some Edgar Allen Poe themed Raven Lager and wonder why Conrad Aiken said “A poet without alcohol is no real poet.”

Whatever the reason, booze and books are forever entwined. The tales of alcoholism taking its toll on writers are infamous and we’ve lost a great many voices to drink. Yet as with all things, moderation is key and over indulgence in any one thing can do harm. Even without alcohol, authors do have some crazy addictions (James Joyce dug flatulence?!?), so the rest of us always have the option to teetotal and just read about it.