8 of the Best Cocktails from Classic Literature

A glass of sidecar orange cocktail © Andrei Mayatnik/Shutterstock.

As owners of the cocktail institution, Death & Co and authors of the New York Times bestselling book of the same name and our new book, Cocktail Codex, we make and study cocktails for a living. Therefore, it is no surprise that we have a great appreciation for writers who use cocktails as a means for creating character traits or for setting a scene.

To celebrate the important role cocktails play in literature, we’ve compiled some of the most well-known books where the cocktail itself, becomes a character, along with some fun facts about each drink.

  • The cover of the book The Long Goodbye

    The Long Goodbye


    While sitting at a bar, hard-drinking detective Philip Marlowe and the mysterious Terry Lennox shared gimlets. Lennox remarked, “They don’t know how to make them here. What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice, and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”

    Reportedly, Chandler had this recipe for a gimlet on an ocean voyage he took in 1952, the year before The Long Goodbye was published. This gimlet recipe made such an impression on him that he had Rose’s Lime Juice delivered by the caseload to his home in San Diego. In her biography of Chandler, The Long Embrace, Judith Freeman writes that the gimlet, “takes on an uncommon importance — like a knight’s drink of friendship, cementing allegiance…”

  • The cover of the book The Great Gatsby

    The Great Gatsby


    The mint julep plays a big role in one of the most central scenes in The Great Gatsby. As Tom is starting to suspect an affair between Daisy and Gatsby, Daisy distracts by offering to make him a one. ”Open the whiskey, Tom, and I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself.”

    A julep is like an especially refreshing Old-Fashioned that substitutes mint for the bitters. We make ours slowly and with care, as tradition favors. While the julep is little more than a giant cup of whiskey, the crushed ice is critical to making it the perfect accompaniment to a blisteringly hot afternoon. Don’t skimp on it; pack it in tight and cresting in high above the rim so that the liquid is bracingly cold from start to finish.

  • The cover of the book Our Man in Havana

    Our Man in Havana


    In Graham Greene’s novel, Our Man in Havana, accidental spy James Wormold’s drink of choice is the daiquiri, which he orders morning, noon and night. Wormold enjoyed his daiquiri frozen with rum and lime.  One could argue that this one-time vacuum salesman needed a constant during a time of staggering change, and he got that with his regular daiquiri.

    The daiquiri may have a reputation as an easygoing drink best enjoyed poolside, but its success hinges on your ability to understand how its components — strong, sweet, and sour — collaborate to make a unified whole. Despite its reputation as a party drink, making a great daiquiri requires more attention to technique than most cocktails — the balance in ingredients is critical, and a hearty shake is required.

  • The cover of the book The Bonfire of the Vanities

    The Bonfire of the Vanities


    While at a fancy restaurant during an interview with journalist Peter Fallows, the charter plane magnate Arthur Ruskin orders a sidecar with VSOP Cognac, despite doctor’s orders of no alcohol. Sometime after imbibing, Arthur falls to the floor and ultimately dies. The restaurant staff barely lifts a finger to help.

    Whereas the daiquiri is like a boisterous guest at a party — the guy who knows everyone — the sidecar is an exotic, quiet foreigner brought by a friend who reads big, hardcover books and likes to talk about them. Though it contains only three ingredients, it’s mysterious. And Fallows’s order is a wise one (despite the whole dying part): good, aged cognac should be used when making a sidecar. Cognac’s labeled “VSOP” has just enough age to be full-bodied while not breaking the bank.

  • The cover of the book Casino Royale

    Casino Royale


    In Casino Royale, the decisive James Bond ordered his martini as such, “A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

    There is no cocktail that’s ordered with more specific requests than the martini: spirit type (gin or vodka), the quantity of vermouth (from dry to wet), technique (shaken or stirred), and a variety of garnish options ranging from olives and pickled onions to a citrus twist. How a person orders a martini can communicate a lot: gin for traditionalists, vodka for rebels, a lemon twist and extra vermouth for poets, and extra dry with a side of olives for bankers.

  • The cover of the book Brideshead Revisited

    Brideshead Revisited


    The colorful Anthony Blanche met British Army captain and artist, Charles Ryder at the bar where he ordered “Four Alexander cocktails” and arranged them in a row. “I expect you would prefer sherry, but, my dear Charles, you are not going to have sherry. Isn’t this a delicious concoction? You don’t like it? Then I will drink it for you. One, two, three, four, down the red lane they go.”

    A mixture of brandy, crème de cacao, and heavy cream, the decadent and one-time very popular Brandy Alexander made crème de cacao a bar staple.

  • The cover of the book The Sun Also Rises

    The Sun Also Rises


    The Jack Rose is mentioned twice in The Sun Also Rises, which is loosely based on Hemingway’s adventures in Paris at his favorite Parisian bar, the Crillon. The book’s protagonist, American journalist Jake Barnes, is served several Jack Roses, made by George, the bartender at the Crillon.

    Grenadine, made from pomegranate juice and spiked with orange oil, has a flavor that is both juicy and tangy — a characteristic that highlights the apple brandy in this classic cocktail. It’s also a variation of the daiquiri, which is on brand since Hemingway is known for his affection for daiquiris, and even has one named after him. Lime juice provides a counterpoint to the grenadine’s richness, cutting through the deep sweetness of the syrup.

  • The cover of the book The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter


    Set during the Great Depression in the deep South, alcohol consumption as a salve is a common theme in this novel, especially whiskey and beer.

    There are several things that about American whiskey that make it a great base spirit for cocktails. It is one of the most tightly regulated spirits on the planet, so there’s a high baseline standard — that is, the worst American whiskeys are still pretty decent.