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On Food

Faulkner’s Cocktail of Choice

December 31, 2013 | by

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In honor of the new year, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

When I first started working at Kings County Distillery, in the summer of 2010, I was delighted to find the job provided ample time to read. Whiskey making has its own peculiar rhythm. Each batch begins in a flurry, as one juggles a series of tasks like a line cook, but ends in a hush, with little to do but watch the languorous drip of the stills.

This was in the wobbly-legged days of the company’s infancy, before we moved into the grand old brick paymaster building in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Back then we were based out of a studio space on Meadow Street with wooden floors and five-gallon steel pot stills that had to be emptied, scaldingly, by hand. (This, as our former downstairs neighbors can attest, would prove an unfortunate combination of circumstances.) During that first summer, we worked singly, in nine-hour shifts, so there was a lot of alone time. So, unless one wanted to lose one’s goddamn mind in that little room, one read.

Perhaps it was the environment, but I soon became keenly aware of how an author’s drink of choice could perfume the pages of a novel. Fitzgerald’s very language is redolent of the gin rickey; Kerouac stinks of tequila; Chandler of gimlets; Hemingway of mojitos and red wine; Poe of cognac; Wilde fumes with absinthe; while Burroughs somehow manages to isolate the weird chemical frequencies in a vodka and coke. Anne Sexton drank straight vodka, whereas Sylvia Plath wrote about vodka but mostly drank wine. Carson McCullers was coldblooded, so she drank sherry mixed with hot tea in the morning and straight bourbon at night. Bourbon was also the poison of Sherwood Anderson, Dylan Thomas, Walker Percy, and Ring Lardner. Steinbeck preferred brandy, but when he couldn’t get it during Prohibition, he once appeared at a Stanford–Berkeley football game wearing an overcoat lined with vials of grain alcohol, pilfered from a chemistry lab where he worked.

And then there is Faulkner, the poet laureate of corn whiskey. I read Light in August over the course of about seven shifts that first summer. A significant portion of the book concerns the exploits of a pair of bootleggers—a topic with which Faulkner was familiar, having run boatfuls of illegal whiskey into New Orleans during Prohibition. There are lovely passages describing the act of drinking whiskey, which goes down “cold as molasses” before beginning its slow, warm uncoiling.

Sherwood Anderson recalls that when he first met Faulkner in New Orleans, in 1925, Faulkner showed up wearing an overcoat that “bulged strangely, so much, that at first glance, I thought he must be in some queer way deformed.” Faulkner informed Anderson that he intended to stay for some time in the city, and asked if he could leave some things at Anderson’s house. “His ‘things’ consisted of some six or eight half gallon jars of moon liquor he had brought with him from the country that were stowed in the pockets of the big coat.” For breakfast Faulkner would eat beignets with a glass of corn liquor, and as he wrote, he kept a jug or three under his desk. Hemingway once remarked that in Faulkner he could detect the “boozy courage of corn whiskey.” (He meant it as an insult, but Faulkner likely wouldn’t have taken it as such.)

Kay Boyle wrote in The New Republic in 1938 that there were two Faulkners, “the one who stayed down south and the one who went to war in France and mixed with foreigners and aviators.” The former was elegant, a bit rambly, and “almost ludicrously authentic”; while the latter, inspired by the modernism of Joyce, Eliot, and Stein, was dense, allusive, Guernica-contorted and Guernica-grim, but always (Boyle remarked sharply) “a little awed, a little unsure, provincially aware of the chances he is taking.”

I like to think of these two Faulkners as embodied in his two favorite cocktails: the toddy and the mint julep. The julep is High Faulknerian. Taking in the dense, lush language in his most lauded works—As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Absalom, Absalom!—is precisely like burying one’s nose in a tangle of fresh mint and sipping a strong bourbon. But the other Faulkner, the one who stayed down south, exemplified by the Snopes trilogy and Sanctuary and Light in August, is more like a cold toddy: light, citrusy, superficially graceful, yet deceptively complex.

Faulkner’s favorite drink is often listed as the julep, which is probably correct: his house in Oxford still displays his beloved metal julep cup. But his old standby was the toddy, which he describes “compounding … with ritualistic care.” It comes in two forms, hot and cold. Faulkner’s niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, clearly recalled her uncle making hot toddies and serving them to his ailing children on a silver tray. But unlike today, the cold toddy seems to have been the more popular in Faulkner’s day.

Recipe:

2 ounces of bourbon or white whiskey
4 ounces of water (cold or boiling)
If cold, 1 lemon slice; if hot, 1/2 lemon, both juice + rind
1 teaspoon of sugar

The key to a toddy, according to Faulkner, is that the sugar must be dissolved into a small amount of water before the whiskey is added, otherwise it “lies in a little intact swirl like sand at the bottom of the glass.” (One of Faulkner’s short stories, “An Error in Chemistry,” hinges on this point: a northern murderer, pretending to be a Southern gentleman, mistakenly mixes sugar with “raw whiskey”; the Southerners recognize his faux pas and immediately pounce on him.) Once the sugar is dissolved, the whiskey is poured over it. Top it off, to taste, with the remaining water—preferably “rainwater from a cistern.” Add lemon and serve in a heavy glass tumbler.

Robert Moor is a writer currently living in British Columbia. Read his other work at robertmoor.com. This piece has been adapted from The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining: How To Make and Drink Whiskey (Abrams). Please feel free to attend the book’s launch party at the Powerhouse Arena on October 23.

 

28 COMMENTS

17 Comments

  1. Drew | October 23, 2013 at 11:59 am

    There is no glamour in alcoholism.
    I have posted here before and won’t tire of opposing it:

    “THE THIRSTY MUSE Alcohol and the American Writer by Tom Dardis”

    “Dardis’ point in writing the book is well taken, however. He rightly sees a need to de-glamorize intoxication and to point out the enormous cost of relying on this source of inspiration. This is a message that ought to be heard in a society where we have generations of people thinking that staying high will invite the muse.”

    http://www.bettyfordcenter.org/ppc/drug-and-alcohol-abuse-2.php?gclid=COzK2ZKprboCFcae4AodKCoAyQ

  2. Kathryn C. Kratz | October 23, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    So true!

  3. Michael | October 23, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Nor is there nobility in tedious moralizing.

  4. dani Brown | October 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Well, it sounds more like a vulgar hawking of THE BETTY some people can be so boring.

  5. Drew | October 23, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    “You may be thinking, “Oh, here we go again, another ‘gloom-and-doom’ Lighten up, dude! I just want to have some fun with my friends.” Really? What may seem like harmless fun can have serious consequences for underage drinkers. A recent report by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising on Television and in National Magazines, 2001 to 2006; December 19, 2007) brings out the following statistics:

    Alcohol use is the number-one drug problem among youth. More students in grades 8, 10 and 12 drink alcohol than smoke cigarettes or use illegal drugs. “Alcohol use remains extremely widespread among today’s teenagers. Nearly three quarters of students (72 percent) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school; and about two fifths (39 percent) have done so by 8th grade…. Nearly a fifth (18 percent) of the 8th graders in 2007 report having been drunk at least once in their life” (Overview of Key Findings, 2007, NIH Publication 08-6418, p. 9)

    Binge drinking among young people remains a major problem, despite significant efforts to reduce youth access to alcohol. In 2006, 7.2 million youth under age 21 reported binge drinking (defined as consuming five or more drinks within two hours) within the past month.

    The earlier young people start drinking, the worse the consequences. People who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to suffer alcohol-related problems than those who wait until 21 to drink. Those who drink heavily in adolescence and early adulthood are more likely to develop a metabolic profile that puts them at greater risk of cardiovascular problems later in life, whether or not they continue drinking.

    The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that approximately 5,000 Americans under age 21 die each year from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking. Another report, by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that “research also shows that early initiation of alcohol use is associated with higher likelihood of involvement in violent behaviors, suicide attempts, unprotected sexual intercourse, and multiple sex partners.” (Quantity and Frequency of Alcohol Use Among Underage Drinkers, March 31, 2008).”

    OK. I’m done.

  6. Doni M. Wilson | October 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Readers will enjoy this book on the Heminway-Faulkner rivalry by Joe Fruhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/0814211747scione:

  7. Doni M. Wilson | October 23, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Readers will enjoy this book on the Hemingway Faulkner rivalry by Joe Fruscione

    http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fdp%2F0814211747&h=zAQFdRGGq

  8. Doni M. Wilson | October 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Sorry my previous post did not go through correctly. It should be the book by Joe Fruscione called Hemingway and Faulkner: A Biography of a Literary Rivalry… http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fdp%2F0814211747&h=zAQFdRGGq

  9. Mack Hall | October 23, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Oh, wow. He said “goddamn.” That is, like, y’know, ‘way cool, and, like, y’know, like, existential, and, like, stuff.

  10. Marsia Hart Reese | October 23, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Applause to Michael at 1:52 p.m.!

  11. Drew | October 24, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Ha, ha, ha.. I can see your points, Michael and Marsia Hart Reese. This is after all a literary blog. Accept my apology, pour yourselves a drink, and read “Infinite Jest” by the late great David Foster Wallace, I think you’ll both enjoy it.

    Cheers

  12. Ted Fontenot | October 28, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    What did Howard Hawks and William Faulkner drink when Faulkner was exiled there (and damn glad to have Hawks be his sugar daddy)?

  13. Joe Palmer | November 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    I trust y’all know that Mr. Faulkner never went to war. He bought an RAF unifiorm in Canada, and then strutted around in Oxford, Mississippi, dressed like a wounded warrior.

  14. Deadman | November 5, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    In 1932, visiting New York, the publisher Jonathan Cape complained to his American partner, Robert Ballou, that the proof of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying had not been edited:

    “When Ballou assured him that it had, [Cape] pointed to a page and asked, ‘Then, can you tell me what that sentence means?’ Ballou read it, and replied that he had no idea. So Jonathan sent for the copy-editor and asked why she had not changed the sentence. Shocked, she explained that one did not alter Faulker’s prose, and then took ten minutes to contrue the sentence; but at the end neither Ballou nor Jonathan was any wiser.
    “It happened that next day Faulkner came into the office, and with characteristic doggedness Jonathan showed him the sentence and asked him what it meant. Faulkner looked at it carefully, and said, ‘Why, damned if I know. I was looking at thet the othah day, and wonderin’; and then I remembered that I was pretty co’ned up when I wrote that, and didn’t know what I was sayin’.’”
    [Michael S. Howard, Jonathan Cape, Publisher, (Harmondsworth, 1977), pp. 102-03.]

  15. Matt | November 7, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Someone once asked Dwight MacDonald why he drank so much.

    “Because Im an alcoholic, goddammit”.

  16. AaronAllen | November 27, 2013 at 5:39 am

    Alcohol is nothing but just an indirect way of doing suicide. It should be avoided at much as possible.

  17. Isaac Brew | January 1, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    As the good Doctor advised us, drugs, alcohol, violence, and insanity aren’t for everyone, but they have always worked for some.

    The most foolish thing to do would be to convince yourself that you know better than anyone else.

11 Pingbacks

  1. […] at 6:45 on November 2, 2013 by Andrew Sullivan It’s possible to understand the different sides of the Southern scribe through his choice of drinks: Kay Boyle wrote in The New […]

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  3. […] ur ”Faulkner’s Cocktail of Choice” av Robert Moor i The Paris Review. Texten är bearbetad och hämtad ur The Kings County Distillery […]

  4. […] Faulkner’s Cocktail of Choice Robert Moore, Paris Review […]

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  6. […] Oh, the man. Faulkner changed my life people. The Sound and The Fury was like stumbling around half-asleep and being jolted almost to tears when turning on the bathroom light. And I hear he knew how to drink… […]

  7. […] Daily blog by writer Robert Moor, (excerpted from the Kings County Guide to Urban Distillery), on the favorite libations of major writers—especially Faulkner. While working at a distillery one summer, Moor writes, “I soon became […]

  8. […] Daily blog by writer Robert Moor, (excerpted from the Kings County Guide to Urban Distillery), on the favorite libations of major writers-especially Faulkner. While working at a distillery one summer, Moor writes, “I soon became […]

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