Quimporto

It’s been a while… so I’m back with a bit of a weird one. Weird enough even to be called weird in Gravity’s Rainbow, which let’s face it is itself pretty weird. Page 615:

Clive Mossmoon and Sir Marcus Scammony sit in their club, among discarded back copies of British Plastics, drinking the knight’s favorite, Quimporto—a weird pre-war mixture of quinine, beef-tea and port—with a dash of Coca-Cola and a peeled onion.

Deeeelicious. But no one said “Every drink in every Pynchon novel” was an easy gig. I’ve mixed myself up a quimporto, or an approximation of one. Quinine is not something you can just buy straight any more, but it’s the main flavour in tonic water, so I’ve used that. For the beef tea: Bovril. This may or may not be what Mossmoon and Scammony are using. Bovril was developed in the 1870s (for Napolean??), and it certainly is very English—fit for a Knight of the Empire like Scammony. My impression is that Bovril is (and would have been) referred to as beef tea; English readers could let me know if this is right.  But beef tea is also something you can make fresh by boiling beef bones, so there’s a chance they’re using that instead. My port was an Australian tawny. The Coca-Cola was Coca-Cola. The peeled onion was one of those creepy bright green ones.

Quimporto Pynchon

In the his Gravity’s Rainbow Companion, Weisenberger calls the quimporto “seemingly awful.” Weisenberger’s not wrong. It made challenging drinking. The thing was really pretty repulsive, especially on the first few sips. Even just the beef tea on its own was gross. After adding port and tonic water and coke and an onion, well, this concoction made the Disgusting English Candy Drill sound like a piece of cake. I’m still trying to drink it as I write this, and I’m a bit concerned that attempting to describe the taste might push it off the edge of bearability into spew-land.

Here’s a try anyway. It’s quinine bite up the front and sweet from the port and coke, then a swimming muddy beefed grapey strangeness, with more beefiness on the aftertaste. Despite that description, the flavours do come together surprisingly well in some ways—it’s disgusting, but it also tastes somehow coherent. Coherent enough to make me think that Pynchon didn’t just make this drink up, or if he did, that he spent some time testing it out. Couldn’t really tell you what proportions I used though. Slightly more beef tea than port, bit less tonic water, less coke than that. But yeah, nasty.

We should note however, that this stuff is actually Scammony’s favourite. And would you take my word over that of a British knight (if one with some odd proclivities)? Why not pull out your jar of Bovril and make up your own mind…

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Merry Christmas! (Fruitcake soaked in brandy)

Pynchon Christmas cake

Merry Christmas all! The day’s over here in Australia; probably just beginning for Tommy Pynchon himself. Among my celebrations, I’ve squeezed in a fruit cake soaked in brandy, as recommended by Mason in Mason & Dixon. A nice chunk of Christmas does appear in M&D, but the fruit cake doesn’t actually herald from any of the most Christmassy scenes. The troupe are snowed in, so it’s wintery at least. They’re talking about Dixon’s relationship with “someone in the kitchen” and the effect it’s had on the “size and curvature” of his stomach. Mason cheerily teases Dixon about the products of her kitchen:

“—the Pies,” Mason is joyous to enumerate, “the Tarts, the, the Jam-stuff’d Dough-nuts, the lengthy Menu of French Crèmes and Mousses, the Fruit-Cakes soak’d in Brandy be it Feast-day or no,—”

“Stop . . . ?” cries Dixon, “tha’re making me hungry.”

Fruitcake brandy PynchonPynchon Christmas brandy cake

It is sadly a rare opinion that fruit cake is a wonderful thing whether it’s a feast day or not. I love the stuff. This particular one was great too, a fancy supermarket Christmas cake that I topped up with extra brandy. And now eating has worn me out and I must sleep. Happy Christmas!

A gigantic pitcherful of margaritas

WIMG_9428hen I reread Inherent Vice a month or so ago, the first pages had me worried. It wasn’t the writing–I slipped into the Lebowski haze more happily and with even more laughter than on my first reading. But there weren’t any drinks. I started this project after reading Bleeding Edge, finding lots of alcohol, and vaguely remembering lots of it in Pynchon’s other books too. But now it looked like IV was going to let me down. Was there just to much dope to smoke and acid to trip for anyone to pause for a Mojito?

But pages 59/60 allayed my fears in style with a “gigantic pitcherful of margaritas.” Interestingly, Doc’s in “flatlander” (or non-hippy) disguise at the time (maybe that’s how the alcohol gets a foot in), visiting Sloane Wolfmann and her helpful maid, Luz. Sloane directs Luz to get them drinks:

“The midday refrescos, now if you wouldn’t mind, Luz. I do hope, Mr. Sportello, that margaritas will be satisfactory–though given your film preferences, perhaps some sort of beer and whiskey arrangement would be more appropriate?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Wolfmann, tequila’s just fine–and what a welcome relief not to be offered any ‘pot’! I’ll never understand what these hippies see in the stuff! Do you mind if I smoke a normal cigarette, by the way?

Doc does his bit of PI snooping, then Luz returns with the gigantic pitcherful “and some chilled glasses of an exotic shape whose only purpose was to make it impossible for the servants to wash them without the help of some high-ticket custom dishmop.” When Sloane’s “spiritual coach” Riggs Warbling walks in, he starts sipping from the jug “without going through the exercise of pouring anything into a glass.”

Once the drinking gets started, it keeps on steadily for the rest of the book. A bit later on, when Doc hooks up with Luz, she brings “a bottle of Cuervo,” (p.142). So I thought I’d combine the two here, and use the bottle of Cuervo to make the gigantic pitcherful of margaritas. You might not think that jug pictured above quite qualifies as gigantic, but I did refill it once, for a pretty gigantic total volume of margarita. And they were great margaritas! Definitely my most successful cocktail attempt (beating the Tequila Sunrise and the Tom Collins). The proportions were from this recipe, though I upgraded from Triple Sec to Cointreau. Some of my test subjects/drinking companions seemed to think it was too strong, but it tasted bloody good to me. And anyway, how am I supposed to cope with the Inherent Vice movie’s too-distant February 5th Australian release date without sufficiently potent margaritas?

Guinness Stout

Pynchon V GuinnessV. reaches its apex in Chapter 16, in Valetta, Malta, where the crew of the USS Scaffold are “getting liberty.” Stencil and Profane show up later in the chapter, but it starts out with Pappy Hod and Fat Clyde heading ashore amid sun-showers and “even a rainbow.”

They made their way through the dockyard. Around them straggled most of the Scaffold’s liberty section in files and bunches. Submarines too were under wraps: perhaps for secrecy, perhaps for the rain. The quitting time whistle blew and Pappy and Clyde were caught all at once in a torrent of yardbirds: disgorged from earth, vessels and pissoirs, all heading for the gate.

After some assorted drama, they find a pub called the Four Aces.

It was early yet and no-one but a few low-tolerance drunks like Leman were causing any commotion. They sat at a table. “Guinness Stout,” said Pappy and the words fell on Clyde like a nostalgic sandbag. He wanted to say, Pappy it is not the old days and why didn’t you stay on board the Scaffold boat because a boring liberty is better for me than one that hurts, and this hurts more all the time.

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Pappy’s depressed about his wife Paola leaving him. Clyde wants to party and Pappy’s dragging him down. Why Guinness Stout signifies the old days for them isn’t totally clear to me. I guess Clyde would rather be slamming tequila shots or mixing vodka with soup. I can’t say Guinness Stout exactly drops any nostalgia sandbags on me; I’m more familiar with the more typical Guinness Draught. I’ve assumed it’s the Extra Stout Pappy wants, not the Draught. Guinness seems to make a big family of slightly and not so slightly different varieties, almost all of which are stouts. Even the Extra Stout varies widely depending on where in the world you buy it. Mine was 6% alcohol, but Wikipedia says it’s only 4.2 or 4.3% in Ireland and 5% in the US. My guess for Pappy’s choice seems pretty good though, because it says here that Guinness Draught was only introduced in 1959–and Chapter 16 takes place in the early stages of the Suez Crisis in 1956. The Extra Stout is the closest relative of the original.

It’s bitter and dark-roast tasting, more intense than the Draught, but without its characteristic creaminess. Tastes very much like the Cooper’s Best Extra Stout from my part of the world, which I suppose is probably an imitator. Not spectacular, though it is actually the kind of thing I could happily kick off a liberty night of bar crawling with, particularly in the higher alcohol Australian version–but I can understand how Clyde might see it as a grim and dour party-pooper.

Tom Collins

Well Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet has entered its sixth month of life, and two Pynchon books remain undrunk from: Slow Learner and Against the Day. The latter I haven’t even read yet (looking forward to getting into it soon). But the former has a decent little list awaiting for our attentions. Unfortunately, Tommy Boy doesn’t mention anything alcoholic in his (otherwise fascinating) introduction. But the first story, “The Small Rain” gets the drinking kicked off with a Tom Collins.

Tom Collins Slow Learner Pynchon“The Small Rain,” Pynchon says in his introduction, was actually his first published story–and I had thought this made the Tom Collins Tom Pynchon’s first published drink, not counting the story’s preceding anonymous beers. But I’m reading it through again now, and I’ve just come across a four pages earlier vermouth that I’d missed last time through. So that’s stolen the pole position. (No doubt I’ve missed others in all the books–please let me know if you notice any!) While I’m on the topic, ‘anonymous’ isn’t really the right word for some of those preceding beers–page 39 brings a bar with “a rack of beer mugs with people’s names on them.” Whatever faults Pynchon finds in this story in his introduction, it sure does get straight into the alcoholic milieu so much of his work from the decades since has shared.

The Tom Collins appears at the end of (main character) Levine’s day moving post-hurricane corpses, when he meets a blonde girl “who called herself little Buttercup” for a date. Page 49:

He got to the bar and went inside and there was little Buttercup waiting for him.

“I got us a car,” she smiled. He was aware all at once that she had a slight Rebel accent. “Hey,” he said, “what y’all drinking?”

“Tom Collins,” she said. Levine drank Scotch. Her face got serious. “Is it bad out there?” she said. “Pretty bad,” Levine said. She smiled again, brightly. “At least it didn’t do anything to the college.”

Tom Collins Pynchon cocktailButtercup the Tom Collins drinker turns out to have pretty unpleasant opinions about the hurricane’s fortuitous choice of victims. They leave the bar, she takes Levine to a cabin “out in the boondocks of nowhere,” where, as Pynchon says in the intro, “some kind of sexual encounter appears to take place,” and that’s pretty much the end of “The Small Rain.” A Tom Collins is gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water, with a cherry. My attempt at it was a bit sub par, all the gin stuck unmixed at the bottom. And after that I just felt too much like a beer to give it another shot. It seems like a decent summery drink in theory. Buttercup doesn’t make the most appealing advocate for it though. It seems to suit her pretty well too–the mix of sweet and sour, and the cheery decorativeness of the cherry, seem appropriate accompaniments to her blithe celebration of the demise of a poorer community. But I’ll try not to hold that against the Tom Collins. I’ve got some simple syrup left; I’ll give it another run tomorrow.

Schloss Vollrads

Schloss Vollrads Pynchon Gravity's RainbowDoes anyone have a time machine handy? Some of these drinks are getting tricky to pull off stuck in 2014. Peach brandy, for example, seems to be the liquor of the moment in the 18th century of Mason & Dixon, but it’s a lot harder to come across now. The Mt Vernon estate made a special batch of the stuff a couple of years ago, which would of course have been ridiculously appropriate for M&D, but that was only 400 bottles (and if anyone has one sitting around they want to get off their hands, please do get in contact). V. mentions a few whiskeys no longer in production.

But I’ll manage all those sooner or later. They aren’t the worst of it. Gravity’s Rainbow gets into a few specific wine vintages, and unsurprisingly, the sort of vintages that were knocking around Europe at the end of WWII tend to be a bit on the scarce side now. From page 163:

They arrive at Peter Sachsa’s well after dark. She finds a séance just about to begin. She is immediately aware of her drab coat and cotton dress (hemline too high), her scuffed and city-dusted shoes, her lack of jewelry. More middle-class reflexes… vestiges, she hopes. But most of the women are old. The others are too dazzling. Hmm. The men look more affluent than usual. Leni spots a silver lapel-swastika here and there. Wines on the tables are the great ’20s and ’21s. Schloss Vollrads, Zeltinger, Piesporter–it is an Occasion.

So if a 1920/21 Schloss Vollrads signified an “Occasion” even back then, what’s it going to cost me to get hold of the stuff now? (This particular episode jumps back to pre-Hitler Berlin, circa 1929/30 according to Weisenburger.) There appear to be a few 1934 bottles available, going for five- to eight-hundred euros. But nothing from ’20/’21. Those years were, as Pynchon says, apparently very good. No doubt a few still linger in European cellars…

Schloss Vollrads Pynchon glass corkI’ve conceded partial defeat and opted not for the 1920, but a 2012 qualitätswein semi-dry riesling. The first thing that must be said about it is that it has a very fancy green fluted bottle, with a glass stopper instead of a cork. The second is that it does taste like riesling. I just have no idea how to talk about white wine. Does anyone? Some professional reviews online described this one as having “lovely quartz [and] slatey nuances,” “flinty aromas,” and “subtle minerality.” My palette just can’t distinguish the different types of rock in this one, I’m afraid. I like it though! The alcohol’s pleasantly low (after last time) at 11.5%, and I do appreciate the slightly sweet, slightly fruity/spicy sharpness.

Now I just need need someone to help me out with the 1911 Hochheimer from page 652…

Cachaça with beer chasers

Well I really lived up to that ‘Drunk Pynchon’ moniker on this one. Cachaça, it turns out, goes down easy and goes down fast and then may or may not come right back up again. A few days later now, I think I’ve just established enough distance between myself and the event to write about it. That’s contrary to my modus operandi here so far, but I’ve been hungover in bed unwilling to even think the word ‘cachaça’ okay.

Inherent Vice, Cachaça and beer

My Pynchonian cachaça hails, along with its beer chasers, from the topical territory of Inherent Vice. Towards the end of Chapter Ten, Doc finds himself alone “down on Sunset … in front of the Sun-Fax Market” and ambles towards saxophone music coming from a Brazillian bar called “O Cangaciero,” (which Google tells me is Portuguese for ‘the bandit’) and ducks inside on a hunch.  And who’s suprised, it’s Coy Harlingen taking the tenor sax solo on stage inside. When the undead saxophonist gets offstage, Doc buys Coy and himself “cachaça with beer chasers,” (p.160). No word yet on whether they make it into the movie.

Cachaça and Inherent ViceCachaça’s a Brazillian spirit distilled from fermented sugarcane juice. It comes aged and unaged, and typically, I think, if you’re drinking it straight you’d be drinking the aged version. But none of that was to be found round these parts, so I had a clear unaged vodka-ish (Sagatiba) one to chase down with these beers (Mountain Goat Summer Ale). I was expecting a rummier taste, but it really was a lot like vodka. But I was, as you may have gathered, not exercising the subtlest tasting practices. It went down, as I said, a bit too easily–especially with a beer chasing. As for the beer itself, not a bad word should be said about Mountain Goat. Wonderful stuff. Dangerous pairing though. Dangerous indeed.

Cachaça, or at least a close cousin, appears in Gravity’s Rainbow too. In Episode Eight of “In the Zone,” some Argentinian anarchists whose place in the book I cannot honestly remember at all are hanging out aboard a hijacked German submarine talking shit.

The crew that hijacked this U-boat are here out of all kinds of Argentine manias. El Nato goes around talking in 19th-century gaucho slang–cigarettes are “pitos,” butts are “puchos,” it isn’t caña he drinks but “la tacaura,” and when he’s drunk he’s “mamao.” Sometimes Felipe has to translate for him.

I don’t know how hot your 19th-century gaucho slang is, but mine’s gotten kinda rusty lately. In his Gravity’s Rainbow Companion, Stephen Weisenburger helpfully informs us that caña is “a drink high in alcohol content and distilled from the juices of various fruits.” But given that caña can mean cane in both Spanish and Portuguese, I’m thinking El Nato’s drink probably derives more specifically from the juices of sugarcane. Meaning, more or less, cachaça. And man, the stuff sure does get you mamao.

Oh plus back on Inherent Vice, let’s all just watch that glorious trailer one more time together.

I can’t wait.