It’s still National Bourbon Heritage Month . . . and I’m not done
drinking bourbon observing just yet.
This week’s words come from William Faulkner, often considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. When you can decorate your metaphorical mantle with a Nobel Prize for Literature and two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, you earn that consideration. But, Faulkner also earned consideration as a notorious drinker, perpetually marinated, and usually in bourbon. Faulkner hailed from Mississippi, so it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you his favorite muse was a southern staple — the Mint Julep.
Did Faulkner write drunk? Probably, but there’s disagreement about whether he drank while he wrote or after he wrote. Faulkner was once asked about the meaning of a particular sentence in The Sound and the Fury, and he responded with, “I have absolutely no idea of what I meant . . . I always write at night, and I keep my whiskey bottle within reach.”1 I’ll let you decide. What scholars do agree on is that Faulkner was a binge drinker, and he almost always set off on a multi-day (or even multi-week) bender after he completed a work.
A few weeks ago, I was eating lunch with a girlfriend at The Whiskey Jar in Charlottesville, Virginia — a place I’d visit much more often if I lived a smidge closer to Charlottesville. They specialize in southern inspired local food, and . . . whiskey. What’s not to love about a place with an entire wall of whiskey?
And hanging on a brick wall directly behind our table were these words:
It’s tough to find a civilization, ancient or otherwise, who didn’t figure out a way to ferment or distill nature into some kind of alcohol. Archaeologists have found beer jugs dating back to the Neolithic Period. Wine appears prominently in Egyptian pictographs. The Babylonians made beer. The ancient Chinese made and used wine. The Greeks and Romans made tons of wine, and each worshipped gods and goddesses of wine. The list of civilization and distillation goes on. And on. Alcohol played a role in almost all civilized life, whether it was religious, medicinal, therapeutic, commercial, or social.
If you’re interested in reading more about the union of alcohol and civilization, David Hanson, Ph.D., has written a very detailed and fantastic essay: History of Alcohol and Drinking Around the World.
While I was down the rabbit hole of research for this post, I discovered an American poet, John Ciardi, once made an observation similar to Faulkner’s: “Fermentation and civilization are inseparable.” I had to Google Ciardi, because I’d never heard of him (you’ll recall I’m mostly allergic to poetry). A more than competent poet himself, Ciardi also translated Dante’s Inferno from its original Italian. I cannot begin to imagine how much fermentation that required!
The lives of Faulkner (1897-1962) and Ciardi (1916-1986) overlapped for 46 years. Did one comment imitate the other? Cue dramatic music.
I found this great photo on Pinterest of Faulkner’s Mint Julep cup — it’s on display at the William Faulkner House in Oxford, Mississippi:
I’ve never been a fan of the Mint Julep myself — it always makes me think of Scope mouthwash. But, in observance of National Bourbon Heritage Month, I might just give it another whirl. I’ve never tried writing with a Mint Julep muse . . .
1Inge, M. Thomas. Conversations with William Faulkner. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 1999. Web.