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I've been mixing grain and grapa.

There is not enough information about this idiom on the internet. The idiom means that one is mixing (drinking) different kinds of alcohol which should lead to a hangover. I've seen also these wordings: "a grain and a grapa," "the grain and the grapa," "grain and grappa." And I have not find a single usage on Ngram. (Interestingly the word grappa is becoming more and more popular since 1920).

What is the standard usage and would people understand it today? (Can you give an account so when someone googles it they find this page.)

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I found grappa was used so many times in one of Hemingway's novels. I don't know if it's related to the increasing trend, though. – Damkerng T. May 18 '14 at 17:25
Hello, what do you mean by grain in above phrase? the food grain or is is some kind of drink? – Invoker May 18 '14 at 17:29
@DamkerngT.: I heard this idiom in one movie where Scott Fitzgerald said it to Hemingway and he made a special accent on grappa. Maybe it shows that the idiom had been coined by Hemingway. – Graduate May 18 '14 at 17:31
Perhaps grappa is what Hemingway prefers. In that story I read, the character (which is a lot like Hemingway himself in many ways, I think) was offered a drink, and he said, "Not Strega." And the other replied, "No. Grappa." Then, he said, "All right." :-) – Damkerng T. May 18 '14 at 17:37
Doesn't it just mean he's drinking beer and wine throughout the night? – user22440 Aug 21 '15 at 13:10
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The version I heard as a teenager in the 1960s was

Beer on whiskey, mighty risky
Whiskey on beer, never fear

In your version (which I've never heard), grain of course refers to distilled beverages brewed from grain: barley, rye, corn (maize). Grappa is an Italian brandy prepared from the pomace left over after grapes are pressed for wine. The French equivalent is marc.

As this Ngram informs you, Grappa is not part of US popular lore -- the drink is practically unknown to US fiction, for instance, except in works set in Europe (mostly Hemingway) or in the Napa Valley (mostly Steinbeck). Every occurrence I've found of the phrase mixing grain and grappa appears to go back to the 2011 film Midnight in Paris. I think it's just a clever piece of alliteration by Woody Allen.

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Good find on the Woody Allen film! I would say it's a clever pun, though, it's not really more alliterative than "grain and grape" is it? – BobRodes May 18 '14 at 18:48
@BobRodes Well, the line is addressed by Fitzgerald to Hemingway, so I think it likely that literal grappa is intended, with a reference grain and grape. – StoneyB May 18 '14 at 18:52
Me too. I'm just saying that alliteration is the use of words that begin with the same letter as a stylistic device, and both "grain and grape" and "grappa and grape" do the same. But ok, it's still a clever piece of alliteration. Perhaps it's more of a "clever riff" on the usual expression than an actual pun. – BobRodes May 18 '14 at 19:09
By the way, here is Woody Allen's great little standup routine about those turn-of-the-century Paris expatriates. – BobRodes May 18 '14 at 19:16
@BobRodes Thanks, that was fun. I thought it needed a little work but could be a good routine. Diane Keaton punched me in the mouth. – StoneyB May 18 '14 at 19:48

In this case, "grain" means any sort of distilled alcohol made from grain, especially scotch and Irish whisky. Grappa is made from grapes (although its resemblance to wine is rather attenuated, to say the least--it's very much an acquired taste). So "mixing grain and grappa" is probably a pun on the old saying "don't mix grain and grape", which means to avoid taking things like whisky and brandy together. From personal experience in my youth, this is good advice. :)

I can't find any examples of "mix grain and grape" in the Ngram viewer. Doing an Ngram on "grain and grape" of course has many examples that have to do with grain and grape harvests or whatever, but I do also find this as an example of its use to refer to alcoholic beverages:

But so booze-conscious had Prohibition made folk that they now would have felt inhospitable if they hadn't had on hand every distillation of grain and grape to offer their guests.

-John Schmidt: Growing up in the Oil Patch

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