Apricot Brandy

Apricot Brandy Pynchon

Around page 718 of Against the Day, Cyprian and Yashmeen meet up with Ratty McHugh to discuss Yashmeen’s fear that she’s being followed, including by a “Hungarian element.” (My recollection of this passage is close to nil, but the Chumps of Choice group-read blog has great memory-refreshing summaries of AtD chapters—it’s a great travelling companion if you’re reading the book now). They retreat to a safe-house of Ratty’s, where we get this little Slothrop’s-desk description of the kitchen’s contents (p. 718):

By the unwritten rules of these transitory dwellings, the cupboards yielded a sketchy culinary history of those who had passed through—bottles of Szekszárdi Vörös, Gewürtztraminer and apricot brandy, chocolates, coffee, biscuits, tinned sausages, wine, boxes of dried noodles of various shapes and sizes, a white cloth bag of tarhonya from the previous century.

I don’t mean to descend into petty quibbling, but doesn’t it seem a bit lazy to include “wine” in a list that’s already mentioned two specific wines? Whatever, it’s good for my list. Right now, I’m just going to handle the apricot brandy.

Apricot brandy these days is most often a liqueur flavoured with apricots, rather than a true brandy distilled from fermented apricot juice. But the real stuff can be found. I used a bit of this Fütyülős Barack in the Tequila Zombie. As you might be able to guess from all those accents, it’s Hungarian. This particular type of brandy is known as Pálinka, and Wikipedia tells me it’s a protected product that can only be made in Hungary or a few bits of Austria. It’s not the only morsel of Hungary in Ratty’s safe-house—the Szekszárdi Vörös (wine) and tarhonya (some kind of pasta) also hail from the Magyar lands. This “sketchy culinary history” does indeed seem a bit sketchy—what’s Ratty’s hideaway doing full of Hungarian food while Yashmeen fears pursuit by Hungarians?

I’ll say one thing—I can see how the apricot brandy got left in the back of a cupboard. Authentic or not, I’m finding it a bit rough. The apricots come through pleasantly enough, but the alcohol burn is too harsh for me to really enjoy this straight. I’ll find some more cocktails to put it in.

Vodka with Milk, Vegetable Soup, and Watermelon Juice

Guardian comment V vodka

…so quoth a commenter when the Guardian books first introduced our frivolous little endeavour to the world. And I know of course one shouldn’t read the comments and less still feed the trolls, but I have been looking forward to this post ever since.

Pynchon in Public PodcastAs any true Pynchonite should realise, Pynchondom abounds with dedicated souls who wouldn’t blink at slurping down a vodka and milk for the cause. Two of the most dedicated of all must be the hosts of the marvellous Pynchon in Public Podcast, Chris and Bo. I had the great honour of appearing on their latest episode, where we drank this on air. Chris took the milk, Bo the vegetable soup, and I the watermelon juice. Get yourself over there now and listen, they’ve edited out all my drunken slurping noises, it’s a fun time. Here’s the iTunes. Very excitingly, they’re about to start a season on Gravity’s Rainbow — never a better time to jump aboard there if you haven’t already.

The vodka with milk/soup/watermelon is, as AbsurdistGeographer helpfully explained, drank at the tail end of a party near the beginning of V. It’s a pretty sombre party though. Here’s the passage (p. 18):

They would sit around a table in Teflon’s kitchen: Pig Bodine and Dewey Gland facing them [Paola and Benny] one each like partners at bridge, a vodka bottle in the middle. Nobody would talk except to argue about what they would mix the vodka with next when what they had ran out. That week they tried milk, canned vegetable soup, finally the juice from a dried up piece of watermelon which was all Teflon had left in the refrigerator. Try to squeeze a watermelon into a small tumbler sometime when your reflexes are not so good. It is next to impossible. Picking the seeds out of the vodka proved also to be a problem, and resulted in a growing, mutual ill-will.

We split the drinks up on the podcast, but I couldn’t let the two I didn’t take pass me by entirely. So let’s go, round two, I’m tackling them all again.

Disclaimer: I drank these on seperate evenings. Attempting to drink all three at once may lead to profound unhappiness.

First up: vodka with milk. 

Pynchon Vodka with Milk

I got home from work ready for a beer and instead dropped a shot of vodka in a tall glass of cold milk (just in case my dedication is still in question). It didn’t really taste too horrible, which seemed wrong, so I added more vodka. This did amp up the grossness considerably. It somehow seemed far creamier than just ordinary milk, which combined with the vegetal/metallic vodka edge and slight alcohol burn just got really weird, particularly as you get more than a few sips in. I guess it wasn’t totally awful. A big milk fan could probably dig it. I struggled.

Next: vodka with vegetable soup. 

Vodka with Vegetable Soup Pynchon

Well doesn’t this one just make the other two look like strawberry daiquiris. It’s shudderingly gross. Bo elected out of his own free will to drink it on the podcast (his version is pictured below). I still have lingering guilt over suggesting this particular trio. Thinking that Pig Bodine and co wouldn’t bother with heating, Bo left it cold. I’ve done the same. Cold vegetable soup out of a glass is gross enough to begin with; vodka takes it to a new level of spewiness. As I think Bo found on the podcast, much of the vodka seems to float to the top, being less dense than soup. That means it starts horrible but gets milder and milder. By the time I was eating the last celery and corn out of the glass with a spoon, it was almost enjoyable. Almost.

Bo Pynchon Soup

Last up: vodka with watermelon juice. 
Rotten Watermelon PynchonI drank this one on the podcast, mashing the juice straight out of a fresh watermelon. That wasn’t really fair, seeing as V clearly specifies a “dried up” piece of watermelon, and the hosts were drinking the nastier mixes above. I kept the rest of the watermelon in the fridge though, ready for a crustier reprise here. Probably because I sealed it in tupperware though, it didn’t dry up at all — it turned to soggy mouldy pulp. Yum. Luckily I had one chunk in the freezer, and that defrosted into a flaccid but (crucially) mould-free source of juice. If this fails to follow the letter of the drink as set down in V, it is at least loyal to the spirit of just using whatever you’ve got, whatever particular grossness that might entail.

The result was drinkable, but not wonderful. Just stale watermelon. It looked pretty! Pynchon’s not wrong though, picking the seeds out sure was irritating.

Pynchon Watermelon Vodka

What are you still doing here? Go listen to Pynchon in Public!


Drunk Pynchonette and I ordered a couple of (enormous) glasses of this last night then only realised halfway through ’em that the name’s familiar ring owed itself not to my comprehensive knowledge of Italian viticulture but to Pynchon’s most alcoholic of opuses, Against the Day. So it was camera out, non-Instgramming restraint and decency away, and time for a spontaneous addition to the Pynchonian wine cellar.

Pynchon MontepulcianoThe Montepulciano makes its appearance late in Against the Day in the wistful hands of Prince Spongiatosta. He’s talking to Cyprian (p. 873):

“You will come out to the island next week for our annual ball?”

“I’ve nothing to wear.”

He smiled, allowing Cyprian to think it was nostalgia. “The Principessa will find something for you.”

“She has exquisite judgement.”

The Prince squinted at the sky through his glass of Montepulciano. “In some things, most likely.”

Montepulciano is a grape commonly planted across Italy, used in numerous different protected styles. Ours was a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Tenuta Ulisse. I had a couple of pints post-Montepulciano, and I’m struggling to remember now quite what the stuff tasted like. I know I did most enjoy it. A bit spicy, with some sweet liquorice flavours, Drunk Pynchonette is reminding me. Pretty dark for staring at the sky through, though perhaps that explains the squinting.

Small Beer

Pynchon Small BeerAmong the many pieces of historical, gustatory, and alcoholic miscellanea we can gather from the pages of Mason & Dixon, the early birth and long-life of the mutual incomprehension customary between British and American beer drinkers is one I particularly enjoy. Yanks find British beer dank and warm, Poms find the US stuff fizzy and insipid, and apparently it has ever been thus. Here’s Dixon offering to buy a round on page 569:

“Eeh, lo, thy Jack’s empty…? Can’t have thah’, allow me, all who’re dry, no problem, Mr. McClean shall enter each into his Ledger, and in the fullness of Time will all be repaid,— aye then, here they come! how canny, with those greeaht Foahm Tops on ’em, what do tha call thah’?”

“That is a ‘Head,'” Blackie quizzickal. “They don’t have that, back wherever you’re from? What kind o’ Ale-drinker are you then, Sir?”

“Shall we quarrel, after all?”

“Innocent question,” Blackie looking about for support.

“Very well, as tha did ask,— I’m a faithful and traditional Ale-Drinker, sir, who does thee a courtesy in even swallowing this pale, hopp’d-up, water’d down imitation of Small Beer.”

“Far preferable,” replies Blackie, “— even if sladerously and vilely untrue,— to that black, sluggish, treacly substitute for Naval Tar, Sir, no offense meant, that they swill down over in England?” with a look that would have been meaningful, could it get much beyond a common Glower.

After which point, unexpectedly, both find the forgiveness in their hearts and the broadness in their palates to appreciate each other’s ales after all. They pull back from the precipice of this argument and join in another comradely American Pint.

As an aside, when I first read Mason & Dixon the 18th century-ish language seemed forbidding at first but quickly came to feel familiar and comfortable. But transcribing bits of it really dispels the illusion that this kind of writing could ever come easily–the effort that must have gone into making such strange sentences read so easily must have been phenomenal. And they don’t just read easily, they spark incredibly into life. The layers of phonetic accents and mock (?) 18th century weirdness somehow result not in abstract postmodern textual artefact or overblown monstrosity but in a Jeremiah Dixon so real and human you can just about smell the beer on his breath.

Small Beer Mason & DixonSmall Beer, the particular British style Jeremiah denigrates the American specimen in relation to, was a lower-alcohol beer that was often brewed from the second runnings of wort when making a stronger beer. Workers would drink it through the day, children at festivals. The beer I have here is quite literally a “hopp’d-up imitation” of such a style. It’s the Small Ale from Colonial Brewing Co in Margaret River, Western Australia, a pale ale with grassy and citrusy hops, suprisingly flavourful for its 3.5% abv. The Foahm Top is decent if perhaps not greeaht. I don’t love it, would rather go straight to something stronger. But if Mr Dixon happened around, I guess this wouldn’t be the worst representation of Australian beer he could try. No doubt we could have a most convivial time over a few pints of it.


Pynchon PrimitivoI finished Against the Day more than two months ago now. Or that’s when I read the last page anyway–who really ever finishes a Pynchon book. Drinking through it is sure going to take a while. The list is longer than for VGravity’s Rainbow, and Mason & Dixon combined. And it’s fun stuff, distillations of many of the books diverse milieu, from Colorado to Siberia. Check it out.

Though there’s plenty of obscure spirits and good weird cocktails and in AtD, we’ve been pretty starved for wine around here lately (last one was Schloss Vollrads back last October), so I’m starting with some of that: Primitivo. It’s a red wine from the heel of Italy, closely related to Zinfandel.

About halfway through AtD, Dally Rideout (who we follow sporadically through much of her life) is living in Venice and going out with Hunter Penhallow, a painter arrived here from Greenland through diverse and possibly supernatural passages. They’re living happily bohemian. Page 584:

One day Hunter showed up in sunglasses, broad-brimmed straw hat, and fisherman’s smock. “Feel like getting out on the water?”

“Let me borrow a hat and I’ll be right there.”

They head out into the lagoon with an anarchist Futurist painter friend of Hunter’s called Andrea Tancredi and some others.

They picnicked on Torcello in a deserted pomegranate orchard, drank primitivo, and Dally found herself looking at Andrea Tancredi more than she could account for, and when he happened to catch her looking, he stared back, not angry but not what she’d have called fascinated either.

Primitivo Against the Day PynchonTorcello, our Great Guide says, is a quiet, sparsely populated Island in the north of the lagoon. Probably an ideal place to find a deserted pomegranate orchard. The whole island is actually pretty deserted–it was the most populous bit of Venice until the lagoon around it turned to swamp in the 12th century and everyone jumped ship. Now it’s home to ten people.

Primitivo seems like a good grape for the occasion. Based on the glass in front of me, it’s fruity and rich with a good wallop of tannins up the back. There’s a definite aniseed note too. But also all remaining somehow light and picnic-friendly. Lovely stuff. The Italian anarchist painters are successfully showing the foreigners how it’s done.

Spruce Beer

Long time no post! I’ve well and truly finished Against the Day (gaze upon the list and tremble), but this one’s actually from Mason & Dixon. It’s just been sitting in my fridge too long.

Spruce Beer Pynchon

Spruce beer is a not-always-alcoholic beverage brewed with buds or needles from spruce trees. Wikipedia reckons it was first drank by Indigenous groups in North America, who put European sailors onto the stuff. It appears in the 1796 edition of American Cookerywhere it’s made from spruce, hops, and mollasses fermented with the “emptins” or leftover yeasty sediment of a previous brew.

In M&D, it’s a local specialty of the Maryland/Chesapeake area. Reverend Cherrycoke’s travelling to Philadelphia (to act as chaplain for Mason and Dixon’s expedition) in a TARDIS-like coach with a small assortment of strangers. They don’t stay strangers long, and one woman relates the wonderful story of how her husband almost drowned in a hop kiln (p. 358: “they could only see his hand above the cones, releasing their dust and terrible fumes as his struggling broke them”) and found it a transformative spiritual experience. They get into a heated discussion of Maryland property laws, which not everyone appreciates. From page 360:

“Why,” Mrs. Edgewise demands to know, “must this subject rouse quite so much Passion?”

The Purveyor of Delusion confers upon his wife a certain expression or twist of Phiz I daresay as old as Holy Scripture,— a lengthy range of Sentiment, all comprest into a single melancholick swing of the eyes. From some personal stowage he produces another Flask, containing, not the Spruce Beer ubiquitous in these parts, but that favor’d stupefacient of the jump’d-up tradesman, French claret,— and without offering it to anyone else, including his Wife, begins to drink.

Spruce Beer Mason & DixonThe French claret will have to wait for another day; I’ve got Spruce beer. Drunk Pynchonette noticed it in a bottle shop when we weren’t even looking. And in honour of Dixon, this one’s not from Maryland but Scotland. It’s the Alba Scots Pine Ale.

The nose is bready and yeasty with fruity barleywine notes. HEAPS of sediment hanging in suspension. Tastes like a barleywine, alcohol and raisins and berries, with a chewy stickiness and some yeasty notes softening it out. There’s no real bitterness, but it is kind of spicy on the back. I can’t personally say where exactly the spruce sits in that mix. There’s a lot going on. I’m getting some what I want to call sap-like flavours as I get further in, but that could be entirely down to my increasingly drunk imagination. Weird beer. Fascinating beer. Thanks Pynchon.

Old Fashioned

I’ve recently embarked with the Chums of Chance aboard the good ship Inconvenience—and man, (isn’t this supposed to be some kinda kid’s book?) the air in here sure is alcoholic. My Against the Day list is already 50 drinks long, and I’m not even halfway through. Gravity’s Rainbow only has 45 or 46 all up. And now that’s as smooth a segue as you’re getting into this drink, hailing not from Against the Day but from Gravity’s Rainbow. The drink’s smoother than my segue. It’s as much an American classic as the book is. The old fashioned. Pynchon Old Fashioned I’ve not witnessed any Pynchon character actually drinking an old fashioned. Slothrop just eats the cherry from one. Or I presume he ate one at some point, given this catalogue from page 63:

Upstairs in the men’s room at the Roseland Ballroom he swoons kneeling over a toilet bowl, vomiting beer, hamburgers, homefries, chef’s salad with French dressing, half a bottle of Moxie, after-dinner mints, a Clark bar, a pound of salted peanuts, and the cherry from some Radcliffe girl’s old-fashioned.

Slothrop’s mouth harp then heads down the toilet too, and he’s of course obliged to follow right on in down after everything (see: Canadian Ale).

The fact that that Radcliffe girl had a cherry in her old fashioned is actually pretty interesting, mixologically speaking. That’s because the old fashioned has gone through a few very distinct phases in its evolution. It began as arguably the first cocktail, described in 1806 as composed of “spirits, bitters, water, and sugar.” By 1860, the drink was referred to as an old fashioned, and usually made with rye whiskey or bourbon. But after Prohibition, people seemed to have forgotten what a good thing they’d had, and the old fashioned mutated into a sweet abomination full of muddled fruit. That’s when the cherry appears, and that’s likely the sort of old fashioned Slothrop’s Radcliffe girl drinks. (Slate has a great 1936 letter to the New York Times from an old timer complaining about the new old fashioned.) The old-fashioned old fashioned without all the frivolity didn’t really make a big come back until the classic cocktail revival of the early aughts.

I Gravity's Rainbow Old Fashionedguess if I were going to be really faithful to the drink as it appears in GR, I’d mix myself up the fruity version with a cherry. But I’m a big fan of this drink, and I just can’t bring myself to do that to it. Instead, I’m following the sage advice of Old Fashioned 101 and doing it right. I used:

  • 3 teaspoons of simple syrup I made from light muscovado sugar
  • A good dash of Angostura bitters
  • 2 shots of woodford reserve bourbon
  • A twist of orange peel

In that order, no ice. And can I say right now I’ve never mixed myself a better drink. I love these old manly cocktails, but I imagined it’d take bartender skills more serious than mine to make a decent one. But no, the thing was beautiful. It’s all I can do to keep from making it a nightly habit.

Okay and we’re not done yet:Pynchon Moon Dog Old Fashioned

If there’s one field of alcoholism in which Pynchon tends to let me down, it’s good weird beer. Not that there’s nothing at all, but the books are just all set pre- our current glorious era of interesting beer. Very happily though, my favourite brewery, Moon Dog, just made an old fashioned in beer form. Even better: it’s two beers you mix together. One provides the “sweet, orangey, bourbon-y part” (a dark ale with a bit of citrus zest and orange bitters, aged on bourbon soaked oak staves) and the other the “cherry-ish herbally part” (an English IPA brewed with cherries).

Pynchon Moon Dog Beer

It was good. Uncannily like an old fashioned–especially just in the dark ale half for me. SO bourbon-y, with a great citrus-y bitterness. The cherry IPA pulled it a little far towards the fruity style old fashioned, though I guess that was maybe the idea. It was undeniably, as Moon Dog’s motto runs, “Really ridiculously fun beer.” Both beers on their own were excellent too. And hey look, I did kinda sorta get around to having Slothrop’s girl’s cherry (IPA) version!

Gravity's Rainbow Old Fashioned Weird Beer