Drinking with William Faulkner: The Writer Had a Taste for The Mint Julep & Hot Toddy

“Civ­i­liza­tion begins with dis­til­la­tion,” William Faulkn­er once said, and like many of the great writ­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry — Ernest Hem­ing­way, F. Scott Fitzger­ald, James Joyce — the bard of Oxford, Mis­sis­sip­pi cer­tain­ly had a fond­ness for alco­hol.

Unlike many of the oth­ers, though, Faulkn­er liked to drink while he was writ­ing. In 1937 his French trans­la­tor, Mau­rice Edgar Coin­dreau, was try­ing to deci­pher one of Faulkn­er’s idio­syn­crat­i­cal­ly baroque sen­tences. He showed the pas­sage to the writer, who puz­zled over it for a moment and then broke out laugh­ing. “I have absolute­ly no idea of what I meant,” Faulkn­er told Coin­dreau. “You see, I usu­al­ly write at night. I always keep my whiskey with­in reach; so many ideas that I can’t remem­ber in the morn­ing pop into my head.”

Every now and then Faulkn­er would embark on a drunk­en binge. His pub­lish­er, Ben­nett Cerf, recalled:

The mad­den­ing thing about Bill Faulkn­er was that he’d go off on one of those ben­ders, which were some­times delib­er­ate, and when he came out of it, he’d come walk­ing into the office clear-eyed, ready for action, as though he had­n’t had a drink in six months. But dur­ing those bouts he did­n’t know what he was doing. He was help­less. His capac­i­ty was­n’t very great; it did­n’t take too much to send him off. Occa­sion­al­ly, at a good din­ner, with the fine wines and brandy he loved, he would mis­cal­cu­late. Oth­er times I think he pre­tend­ed to be drunk to avoid doing some­thing he did­n’t want to do.

Wine and brandy were not Faulkn­er’s favorite spir­its. He loved whiskey. His favorite cock­tail was the mint julep. Faulkn­er would make one by mix­ing whiskey–preferably bourbon–with one tea­spoon of sug­ar, a sprig or two of crushed mint, and ice. He liked to drink his mint julep in a frosty met­al cup. (See image above.) The word “julep” first appeared in the late 14th cen­tu­ry to describe a syrupy drink used to wash down med­i­cine. Faulkn­er believed in the med­i­c­i­nal effi­ca­cy of alco­hol. Lil­lian Ross once vis­it­ed the author when he was ail­ing, and quot­ed him as say­ing, “Isn’t any­thin’ Ah got whiskey won’t cure.”

On a cold win­ter night, Faulkn­er’s med­i­cine of choice was the hot tod­dy. His niece, Dean Faulkn­er Wells, described the recipe and rit­u­al for hot tod­dies favored by her uncle (whom she called “Pap­py”) in The Great Amer­i­can Writ­ers’ Cook­book, quot­ed last week by Maud New­ton:

Pap­py alone decid­ed when a Hot Tod­dy was need­ed, and he admin­is­tered it to his patient with the best bed­side man­ner of a coun­try doc­tor.

He pre­pared it in the kitchen in the fol­low­ing way: Take one heavy glass tum­bler. Fill approx­i­mate­ly half full with Heav­en Hill bour­bon (the Jack Daniel’s was reserved for Pap­py’s ail­ments). Add one table­spoon of sug­ar. Squeeze 1/2 lemon and drop into glass. Stir until sug­ar dis­solves. Fill glass with boil­ing water. Serve with pothold­er to pro­tect patien­t’s hands from the hot glass.

Pap­py always made a small cer­e­mo­ny out of serv­ing his Hot Tod­dy, bring­ing it upstairs on a sil­ver tray and admon­ish­ing his patient to drink it quick­ly, before it cooled off. It nev­er failed.

h/t The Migrant Book Club

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Artists Under the Influ­ence

William Faulkn­er Audio Archive Goes Online

William Faulkn­er Reads from As I Lay Dying

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Comments (6)
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  • bigjohn756 says:

    I want every­one to know that Jack Daniels is not Bour­bon and does not resem­ble Bour­bon in odor or fla­vor. The mint julep is a tra­di­tion­al Ken­tucky drink and must there­fore be made with with Bour­bon whiskey and nev­er with Ten­nessee whiskey. So there…

    • Bristlehead says:

      You are both wrong. Bour­bon does not have to come exclu­sive­ly from Ken­tucky. Rather, what defines bour­bon is the per­cent­age of corn used in the mash (which must be 51% or greater to qual­i­fy as bour­bon). Ten­nessee whiskey dif­fers from its Ken­tucky cousin only in the uti­liza­tion of the “Lin­coln Coun­ty Process,” where­in the spir­it it fil­tered through sug­ar maple char­coal. Ten­nessee dis­tillers did this inten­tion­al­ly to dis­tin­guish their spir­its from those of Ken­tucky, but oth­er­wise, they are exact­ly the same (gen­er­al­ly using the same corn ratios, though this varies from dis­tiller to distiller–the only com­mon­al­i­ty being that corn con­sti­tutes 51% or more of the grains used in the mash). In oth­er words, Ten­nessee whiskey is not bour­bon only as a result of the state’s dis­tillers ear­ly mar­ket­ing efforts.

  • Q Siemer says:

    Well, his fond­ness for whiskey EWA obvi­ous­ly not lim­it­ed to bour­bon as it comes only from Ken­tucky. Jack Daniels is a Ten­nessee whiskey, not a bour­bon

  • ThePaternalDrunk says:

    You, sir, are 100% cor­rect.

  • Brian says:

    The Lin­coln Coun­ty process was invent­ed in Lin­coln Coun­ty Ten­nessee and dis­tillers were using it in that coun­ty around the same time that Bour­bon whiskey in Ken­tucky was being made and before it was being dis­trib­uted in any great quan­ti­ties to be known well enough for the dis­tillers in Ten­nessee to try and com­pete with Ken­tucky bour­bons per say !The Lin­coln coun­ty process was used by region­al dis­tillers in pri­mar­i­ly two coun­ties Lin­coln and Cof­fee coun­ties! No one knows who invent­ed the process but it was devel­oped for region­al taste at the time ! Jack Daniels learned how to make whiskey when he was 7 yrs old and he learned it from dis­tillers who had been using it there for decades and most like­ly it was devel­oped to improve the taste of the whiskey and not for mar­ket­ing against the Ken­tucky whiskeys which most inhab­i­tants in that region at the time nev­er tast­ed or knew exist­ed . Also though known to many of the dis­tillers in that region in the 1800’s knew of the Lin­coln Coun­ty process not all of them used it , because it takes longer to make whiskey that way ! So it is high­ly unlike­ly that it was devel­oped as a mar­ket­ing ploy against Ken­tucky bour­bons !

  • Robert J Brush says:

    i just fin­ished read­ing a book of short sto­ries by faulkn­er. some of them were con­fus­ing and unread­able. i won­dered if he was drunk while writ­ing them. now i know that he very pos­si­bly could have been.

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