Drinking from the Beat Menu

Jack Kerouac

Gin, whiskey, beer, cognac, and wine

 

According to his biographer, Michael Dittman, as a young construction worker (working on the Pentagon), Jack Kerouac would bring a pint of “gin or whiskey” to work every day. His early years appear mostly dominated by beer, which he would continue to drink – often as a chaser – for the rest of his life. However, through most of Beat history – from the early “libertine circle” days in New York, through the publication of the most important Beat texts and the subsequent “beatnik” fad – Kerouac’s drink of choice was red wine, and it is this with which he is most often associated. It was, after all, wine that he drank during the famous 6 Gallery reading, while travelling America, and hiking in the wilderness. However, in the late fifties or early sixties, Kerouac switched from wine back to whiskey, according to Paul Maher Jnr, because “the excessive intake of wine had turned his tongue white.” Maher adds that Kerouac was also drinking rum at this point, but whiskey was to remain his drink of choice (and that of his mother) for the rest of his life. In Tristessa, he had said that he was drinking “Juarez Bourbon whiskey” and that he mixed it with Canadian Dry, while most biographers and friends have recounted his fondness for Johnny Walker Red. During a trip to France, Kerouac began drinking Cognac, and once told Philip Whalen that “Cognac [is] the only drink in the world, with soda and ice, that won’t actually kill you.”

Allen Ginsberg

Red wine

 

Not being a big drinker, Ginsberg didn’t have many preferred drinks. He mostly drank wine, which was often on offer at poetry readings and other art events.

William S. Burroughs

Tequila, vodka and coke

 

Due to his time in Mexico and Texas, Burroughs was known to have consumed a lot of tequila. His wife, Joan, when she was not busy drinking Benzedrine coffee, was a heavy tequila drinker in those years, too. In his later days, though, Burroughs preferred vodka. When it struck six o’clock, he would begin mixing vodka with Coke. Shortly before his death, Burroughs spoke with the Absolut Vodka company about the possibility of doing an advert featuring his artwork, called “Absolut Burroughs.”

Gregory Corso

Wine, beer, whiskey

 

While Corso was a wild drunk, he appears to have had no real preference for any one kind of drink. His letters are full of references to blurry nights on the town, mentioning wine, whiskey, and beer in equal measure. In her memoir, Huerfano, Roberta Price observes – as many have – that Corso was usually drunk when reading his poetry in public. She says: “he drank a lot of wine and whatever hard liquor was offered,” and usually shouted insults at the audience. Corso seems to imply, however, that in each case it was the influence of other people – and sometimes of boredom – that made him drink.

 

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This article is from the forthcoming Beatdom#13.

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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