The Green Isaac Special and Hemingway

Your cocktail calendar entry for: July
21
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“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares;
if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”

–Ernest Hemingway

Greetings drunkards and drunkards in training. As you are doubtless aware, July 21 is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday, practically a fireworks show date in the annals of drinking. And for this auspicious occasion we’ll venture to a cocktail he invented.

Hemingway’s drinking prowess hardly needs an introduction to readers of The Drunkard’s Almanac. He’s been mentioned numerous times, most notably with respect to the Papa Doble variation on a Daiquiri and the fact that most other American winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature were also heavy drinkers. But we’ve never really talked much about the man himself, a great American novelist, short story writer, journalist, and seriously badass dude.

Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899. Straight out of high school he went to work at the Kansas City Star as a reporter but lasted only six months before attempting to enlist in the Army as World War I raged. His original plan was thwarted when the Army rejected him for poor eyesight, so responding to a Red Cross recruitment effort he signed on to be an ambulance driver in Italy. In June of 1918 he arrived at the Italian Front, but by July 8 he was seriously injured by mortar fire. That’s a lot to pack in while you’re still 18 years old, and he returned to the U.S. in January 1919.

Late that year he started work as a freelancer for the Toronto Star Weekly. By September 1921, they hired him as a foreign correspondent and he set sail for Paris with his new wife. And from there it was the “Lost Generation” community, a term Hemingway himself popularized in The Sun Also Rises. Hanging out with the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and others seems to have done him well. His writing hit its stride and in 1928 he left Paris and headed to Key West.

He also bought a boat, named it Pilar, and began sailing the Caribbean. He liked going out and fishing around Bimini, a chain of islands about 50 miles due east of Miami. Prone to using autobiographical details as framing devices for his stories, this period of his life provided fodder for Islands in the Stream, a collection of three stories, Bimini, Cuba and At Sea, and was the first of his works published posthumously from largely finished manuscripts discovered by his wife.

Somewhere out near Bimini is where Hemingway presumably invented today’s Drink of the Day, the Green Isaac Special. In Bimini the protagonist Hudson asked the first mate Eddy for a drink.

“‘Do you want a drink with coconut water? I got some water coconuts.”
‘Very good.’
‘Want a Green Isaac Special?’
‘Fine. Make it a Special.’
Eddy came aft with the tall cold drink made of gin, green coconut water and chipped ice with just enough Angostura bitter to give a rusty, rose color, he held the drink in the shade so the ice would not melt while he looked out over the sea.”

So there you have it. One of any number of drinks invented by Hemingway and evidence that he was an early trendsetter for the rehydrating and restorative properties of coconut water before it was canned and sitting on supermarket shelves. And in case you’re wondering the name Green Isaac comes from the Great Isaac Cay, a small Bahamian island right in the infamous Bermuda Triangle.

Green Isaac Special

The Green Isaac Special

Once he bought a house in Key West,Hemingway wrote to his publisher saying “Will plant more limes and coconuts.  Wish you could plant a gin tree.”  The Green Isaac Special is the embodiment of that sentiment, a cocktail perfect for a sweltering summer day.  The Green Isaac Special is pretty much a variation on a Tom Collins: lime juice replaces lemon juice, coconut water replaces club soda, and then given Hemingway’s aversion to the stuff the dose of sugar disappears entirely.
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Equipment

  • Shaker
  • Collins Glass

Ingredients
  

  • 2 oz gin
  • 4 oz coconut water Note: that’s coconut water, not coconut cream or coconut milk.
  • 1 oz Fresh lime juice
  • 2-4 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Garnish: none but lime wheel is optional

Instructions
 

  • Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
  • Shake with ice until frosty cold.
  • Pour into a Collins glass, adding more ice to fill if necessary.
  • Drink.
  • Catch another fish or two.
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