I used to believe that I couldn’t possibly churn out a good piece of writing unless I was doing so in a coffee shop in between sips of iced coffee. That was until the coronavirus caused the closure of my local Starbucks, and I was forced to set aside my Basic Bitch of a habit and drink coffee at home like a normal person. This led me to the life-shattering realization that it wasn’t so much the atmosphere as it was the drink that fueled my creativity.
Apparently the secret to great writing (aside from great writing itself) is a drink to keep you going. Take it from these literary legends, all of whom have a personalized drink. Coincidence? I think not.
3 glasses of absinthe, Oscar Wilde
When asked about his favorite drink, absinthe, Oscar Wilde mused, “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” This remark not only proves Oscar Wilde’s familiarity with the effects of absinthe, but also confirms he was drinking it while writing The Picture of Dorian Gray — it sounds like he based Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian Gray, and Basil Hallward off of the first, second, and third glasses of absinthe.
1 sugar cube
1½ oz. absinthe
1½ oz. cold water
1½ oz. lime juice, optional
Eggnog spiked with brandy and rum, Edgar Allan Poe
The source of creativity for Edgar Allan Poe’s best works of gothic fiction, dark romanticism, and horror was none other than a Christmas drink. The Poe family was known for their eggnog recipe, passed down from generation to generation since its creation in 1790, around the time the drink became a Christmas novelty in the colonies due to the introduction of English liquor to the new world. Poe’s roommate at West Point, home of the 1826 Eggnog Riot, revealed that Poe was “seldom without a bottle of Benny Haven’s best brandy,” the most important ingredient of his family’s eggnog recipe. Apparently eggnog puts you in the spirit of Christmas as much as the spirit of writing eerie lines like “It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood”
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 oz. Brandy
½ oz. Rum
Sherry at 6:15am and 11pm, Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s methodical writing process involved six objects: a dictionary, a Roget’s Thesaurus, a pad of yellow legal paper, an ashtray, a Bible, and most importantly, a bottle of sherry. When asked about her sherry habit, Maya Angelou elaborated, “I might have it at six-fifteen a.m. just as soon as I get in, but usually it’s about eleven o’clock when I’ll have a glass of sherry.” Evidently, her mellifluous writing was always a product of “A day / drunk with the nectar of slowness,” as she articulated in her poem Wonder. Poetry of this caliber can only be replicated through the brilliance of Maya Angelou, but a glass of sherry might help you come close.
1 bottle cream sherry
1 orange, sliced into wedges
A Gin Rickey drunk in “long, greedy swallows,” F. Scott Fitzgerald
Apparently while Daisy Buchanan was drinking Gin Rickeys on her porch, so was F. Scott Fitzgerald. Believing the smell was undetectable on his breath, Fitzgerald’s preferred liquor was gin, specifically a Gin Rickey cocktail. Anthony Patch and his wife Gloria from Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and Damned inherited the drinking habits of Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, whose reputation in New York society was defined by their alcohol fueled shenanigans, namely jumping in the Plaza Hotel fountain and showing up to parties wearing pajamas. Fitzgerald admitted to drinking as he wrote too, reflecting, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
2 oz. gin
½ oz. lime juice
4 oz. soda water
1 lime wheel
50 cups of coffee on an empty stomach, Honoré de Balzac
Honoré de Balzac’s grueling writing schedule was only possible with 50 cups of coffee, as it consisted of him going to bed at 6pm, waking up at 1am, then working until 3pm, with only a quick 40 minute nap in between. Priding himself on the fact that he didn’t have “a stomach of papier mache,” Honoré de Balzac, one of the founders of realism in European literature, ironically consumed 50 cups of coffee for its hallucinogenic effects on his imagination. In his essay The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee, he lamented how without it, “one returns to the relaxed, meandering, simple-minded, and cryptogamous life of the retired bourgeoisie.”
1 cup water
1 tbsp extra finely ground dark roast coffee, brewed in a cezve
Skip the cream and sugar (Balzac preferred his coffee black)
Beer every Tuesday morning, J.R.R Tolkien
It’s no wonder that the cuisine of Middle Earth is always paired with ale or porter, because J.R.R. Tolkien was known to enjoy beer every Tuesday morning in an Oxford pub called The Eagle and Child alongside his writers group, The Inklings, of which C.S. Lewis was also a member. From Bilbo Bagins stocking his cellar full of beer barrels, to Gandalf blessing Barliman Butterbur’s beer for seven years, beer drinking is intertwined into even the most trivial parts of the Lord of the Rings narrative, much as it was in Tolkien’s writing process.
English Bitter on tap, served at room temperature
A dry martini while taking a break from writing, Ernest Hemingway
According to a now debunked myth, Ernest Hemmingway invented the Bloody Mary while in Paris. Then, for the longest time, due to a marketing ploy, it was believed that his go to drink was the Mojito. There have always been rumors circulating about Hemingway’s drinking habits, especially since they always made an appearance in his work, but one that he made sure to debunk was that he drank as he wrote. He also confirmed that his favorite drink was a dry martini “so cold you can’t hold it in your hand.” In a letter to his publisher, he revealed that the secret to “the coldest martinis in the world” was to freeze water in tennis ball cans to create denser ice. But whether he was drinking an ice cold martini, a bloody mary, or a mojito, Hemingway was a mindful drinker. “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares,” Hemingway once said. “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”
2½ oz. gin
⅙ oz. extra dry vermouth
(the recipe for Colonel Richard Cantwell’s Montgomery Martini from Across the River and Into the Trees)
Any writer can harness the power of the pen, but only a great one can harness the power of the pint (of beer). If you’re looking for a way to level-up your writing game, try adding one of these cocktails to your routine. Your drink of choice could very well determine the tone of your writing, the sloppiness of your typing, the creativity of your ideas, or your motivation. Perhaps the only thing standing between you and becoming the next literary great is 50 cups of coffee or a pint of beer every Tuesday morning.