Christopher Hitchens, Who Mixed Drinking & Writing, Names the “Best Scotch in the History of the World”

In 2006, a pro­file of Christo­pher Hitchens in The New York­er not­ed how its sub­ject had the ten­den­cy to drink “like a Hem­ing­way char­ac­ter: con­tin­u­al­ly and to no appar­ent effect.” Although Ernest Hem­ing­way’s approach to alco­hol informed the habits of his lit­er­ary per­son­ages, it dif­fered sig­nif­i­cant­ly from that of the late jour­nal­ist. Hem­ing­way, counter to his image, stood firm­ly against mix­ing writ­ing and drink­ing, and when asked about com­bin­ing the two exclaimed:

“Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of any­one who drank while he worked? You’re think­ing of Faulkn­er. He does sometimes—and I can tell right in the mid­dle of a page when he’s had his first one. Besides, who in hell would mix more than one mar­ti­ni at a time, any­way?”

Where­as Hemingway’s approach to writ­ing and imbib­ing was often marked by a cau­tious and pro­fes­sion­al wall of sep­a­ra­tion, Hitchens had no such com­punc­tions. The con­trar­i­an will­ing­ly admit­ted to drink­ing a for­ti­fy­ing mix­ture of wine and spir­it through­out the day:

“I work at home, where there is indeed a bar-room, and can suit myself.… At about half past mid­day, a decent slug of Mr. Walk­er’s amber restora­tive, cut with Per­ri­er water (an ide­al deliv­ery sys­tem) and no ice. At lun­cheon, per­haps half a bot­tle of red wine: not always more but nev­er less. Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treat­ment at the evening meal. No “after din­ner drinks”—​most espe­cial­ly noth­ing sweet and nev­er, ever any brandy. “Night­caps” depend on how well the day went, but always the mix­ture as before. No mix­ing: no mess­ing around with a gin here and a vod­ka there.”

Despite this hale and hearty rou­tine, Hitchens claimed to be invig­o­rat­ed rather than impaired by his con­sump­tion:

“… on aver­age I pro­duce at least a thou­sand words of print­able copy every day, and some­times more. I have nev­er missed a dead­line. I give a class or a lec­ture or a sem­i­nar per­haps four times a month and have nev­er been late for an engage­ment or shown up the worse for wear. My boy­ish vis­age and my mel­liflu­ous tones are fair­ly reg­u­lar­ly to be seen and heard on TV and radio, and noth­ing will ampli­fy the slight­est slur more than the stu­dio micro­phone.”

As with fish­ing and amorous exploits, so with drinking—one should be skep­ti­cal of bold claims. Nev­er­the­less, Gray­don Carter, the long­stand­ing edi­tor of Van­i­ty Fair mag­a­zine, cor­rob­o­rat­ed the robust­ness of Hitchens’ con­sti­tu­tion in a fond and respect­ful obit­u­ary fol­low­ing the journalist’s death in 2011.

“He was a man of insa­tiable appetites—for cig­a­rettes, for scotch, for com­pa­ny, for great writ­ing, and, above all, for con­ver­sa­tion… Pre-lunch can­is­ters of scotch were fol­lowed by a cou­ple of glass­es of wine dur­ing the meal and a sim­i­lar quan­ti­ty of post-meal cognac. That was just his intake. After stum­bling back to the office, we set him up at a rick­ety table and with an old Olivet­ti, and in a sym­pho­ny of clack­ing he pro­duced a 1,000-word col­umn of near per­fec­tion in under half an hour.”

In the clip above, Hitchens makes his well-researched pro­nounce­ments on the world’s best Scotch whisky. Below, the for­mer pro­duc­er Antho­ny Layser sits down with Hitchens for a drink fol­low­ing the release of his mem­oir, Hitch-22. Over Hitchens’ beloved spir­it, the duo dis­cuss­es every­thing from writ­ing, to Brazil­ian wax­es, to water­board­ing. The con­ver­sa­tion, last­ing some 14 min­utes, is part of an series titled Drinks with Writ­ers, which includes Layser’s inter­views with Gary Shteyn­gart, Simon Rich, and Nick Horn­by.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Hitchens Revis­es the Ten Com­mand­ments

Christo­pher Hitchens Answers Red­dit User Ques­tions

Christo­pher Hitchens Cre­ates a Read­ing List for Eight-Year-Old Girl

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

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