Primitivo

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

Cock Ale

Don’t get too excited—Pynchon clearly has his saucier moments, but I haven’t gone all NSFW on you here. A cock’s a chicken, you dirty bastards. And what could be a more natural beer ingredient than a chicken.

Cock Ale PynchonThe Cock Ale appears in Mason & Dixon, brewed regularly at “The Moon,” a St Helena “punch house” on “Cock Hill” (p. 116). Mason, Dixon, and Maskelyne are hanging around celebrating (or more like commiserating) Maskelyne’s twenty-ninth birthday. Mason’s mysteriously sober, preoccupied with a misinstalled Plumb-line. Meanwhile “a Malay” runs into the the room screaming “Cock Ale Tomorrow! Cock Ale Tomorrow!” and “holding by the Feet a dead Fighting-Cock trailing its last blood in splashes like Characters Death would know how to read” (p. 119). But we apparently don’t have to wait until tomorrow—there’s a batch ready today. The proprietor, Mr Blackner, presents M, D & M with “three gigantic Pots of today’s Cock Ale” (p. 120):

“Rum Suck, Gents, and if Mr. Mas-son, can resist it, why then you Gents may divide this third Pot betwixt ye, Compliments of the House.” Mr Blackner’s Receipt for Cock Ale is esteem’d up and down the India Route, and when these Malays stop in Town with their travelling Cock-Fights, the Main Ingredient being suddenly plentiful, Cock Ale, as some might say, is in Season.

Cock Ale is not the invention of Mr Blackner, nor of Pynchon. It is in fact a venerable beverage, and probably a mostly forgotten curiosity by the 18th century of Mason & Dixon. Back in 1669, one Sir Kenelm Digby wrote that “these are tame days when we have forgotten how to make Cock-Ale.” He then helpfully provided a reminder, the first known printed recipe for cock ale:

Kenelm Digby,

Kenelm Digby, “The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie, Knight.” (London, 1669). 

I’ve pillaged that from a fascinating history of cock ale that you can and should read here. Mr Blackner’s recipe at The Moon differs slightly from Sir Digby’s (p. 120):

Mr. Blackner prefers to soak the necessary dried Fruit Bits in Mountain, or Málaga Wine, instead of Canary, and to squeeze the Carcass dry with a cunning Chinese Duck-Press, won at Euchre from a fugitive aristocrat of that Land, in which Force may be multiplied to unprecedented Values, extracting mystick Humors not obtain’d in other Receipts.

The cock ale I sampled apparently sticks pretty close to Digby’s recipe, with mace and a whole unpressed chicken. It was the Big Red Cock Ale from Brisbane’s Bacchus Brewing (which I found alongside a terrific mushroom burger at Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew). The raisins were much more prominent than the cock, but I could more or less convince myself that there were some savoury chicken stock type notes in there too. Generally, it tasted like a subtler, weirder German dunkel.

I would of course like to sample Mr. Blackner’s version. If anyone has a spare cunning Chinese Duck-Press sitting around, send it over my way and I’ll have a go at brewing it up myself.

Suntory Scotch

Hibiki Pynchon VinelandTom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet turned one year old on Wednesday. We started out drinking Chivas Regal with Winsome in V. A year later, it’s a very happy birthday sipping Suntory Hibiki 12 year old. Very happy.

My whisky knowledge has progressed not at all in the past year. My tasting notes for this might look something like:

The nose: whisky magic

The palate: delicious whiskyness.

The finish: more of this whisky please.

But even if I don’t feel qualified distinguishing the ripe orange scents from the marmalade overtones, I’m confident telling you that this stuff is great.

It comes to the Liquor Cabinet courtesy of Vineland. After Takeshi gets Vibrating Palmed by DL, he makes “an emergency appointment with one of the staff croakers at Wawazume Life and Non-Life.” The doctor is concerned, and Takeshi tells him about DL. From page 156–57:

He told the doctor about their rendezvous in the Haro no Depaato while he ran Takeshi through an abbreviated physical, grunting darkly at everything he seemed to find. Nothing really showed up, though, till the urine scan. Doc Oruni pulled a bottle of Suntory Scotch out of a small refrigerator, found two paper cups, poured them 90% full, put his feet up on the desk, and dolefully surrendered to mystery. “There’s no cancer, no cystitis, no stones. Proteins, ketones, all that — it’s normal! But something very weird is happening to your bladder!

Suntory Scotch Pynchon VinelandOminous indeed. And jarring now having tasted and loved a Suntory scotch to see it nestled in that paragraph surrounded by urine. Later, Takeshi leaves the doctor’s office reeling under the influence of the Suntory and the other chemicals he’d obtained howling “My own sleaziness — has done me in!”

About that word scotch up above. It seems an odd choice here, because, of course, Suntory’s not Scottish, it’s Japanese. It’s not un-scotch-like though, and Pynchon doesn’t seem to be the only person to have referred to it as Suntory Scotch. Japanese distilling did begin, says Wikipedia, as a “conscious effort to recreate the style of Scottish whisky.” Which I’d say makes it fit in nicely in Vineland—weirdly dovetailing Japanese and Western culture.

Ah and a little postscript: as if the Hibiki was not enough of a celebration, we had a cake too. Happy birthday Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet!

Pynchon Cake  DSC_1569

Champagne Cocktails

Pynchon Champagne CocktailsWith all the drinking in Pynchon, you’d think there’d be a few more recognisable bars dotting his fictional landscapes. But the only one that really jumps out to me is The Scope, which we find out on the way to LA, near the Yoyodyne factory in The Crying of Lot 49. From chapter three:

The Scope proved to be a haunt for electronics assembly people from Yoyodyne. The green neon sign outside ingeniously depicted the face of an oscilloscope tube, over which flowed an ever-changing dance of Lissajous figures. Today seemed to be payday, and everyone inside to be drunk already. Glared at all the way, Oedipa and Metzger found a table in back. A wizened bartender wearing shades materialized and Metzger ordered bourbon. Oedipa, checking the bar, grew nervous. There was this je ne sais quoi about the Scope crowd: they all wore glasses and stared at you, silent. Except for a couple-three nearer the door, who were engaged in a nose-picking contest, seeing how far they could flick it across the room.

Which now that I think of it sounds about what I imagine a bar full of Pynchonites might end up like. The place also has an electronic music only policy, and the fact that Pynchon plays this for laughs has me yearning for 1965, now that the whole world seems to have adopted such a policy.

Pynchon Posthorn Cocktail Lot 49Oedipa first comes across the muted post-horn, that foremost symbol of Pynchonoia, on a wall of The Scope’s ladies room. And she returns to the place a couple more times. Lot 49’s last drink is drank there midway through the sixth and final chapter:

She did go back to The Scope, though, one night, restless, alone, leery of what she might find. She found Mike Fallopian, a couple weeks into raising a beard, wearing button-down olive shirt, creased fatigue pants minus cuffs and belt loops, two-button fatigue jacket, no hat. He was surrounded by broads, drinking champagne cocktails, and bellowing low songs. When he spotted Oedipa he gave her the wide grin and waved her over.

Pynchon Black Pearl French 75What a wonderful name is Mike Fallopian. It’s times like these I wish I had a copy of Pynchon Character Names: A Dictionary. But I’ll leave you to produce your own commentary on Mike’s reproductive capacity in the narrative and focus my energy on the champagne cocktails. I tried to knock this one off a couple of weeks ago at the excellent if kind of dated feeling Black Pearl, where I downed a delightful French 75. A French 75 is basically an upgraded Tom Collins, with champagne instead of soda water. That’s it there on the left. But so then I got busy and didn’t get around to writing the post–and plus, it does say cocktails plural. So let’s have a couple more.

I thought I’d try my hand at inventing my own. That’s the result pictured up top—and I don’t think it was half bad. Metzger’s bourbon in The Scope from chapter three wasn’t specific enough to make the list on its own, so I’ve incorporated it here. Here’s my recipe:

The Posthorn
Champagne (or actually I used Prosecco)
Bourbon (I used Blanton’s—great stuff)
Lime juice
Blackcurrant Cordial

With the quantities being mysteries lost to history. I found a point where it all seemed to balance nicely, and you could taste the bourbon and it was just sweet enough, but I sure couldn’t tell you what the ratios were. Was pretty proud of how it ended up though.

Two’s not plural enough, so I also whipped up some of these babies, which were very delicious. Passionfruit pulp, various other juices, and Prosecco. And then to top it all off I tried a black velvet—champagne and Guinness. Also good!

Pynchon Posthorn cocktailPynchon cocktail Lot 49Pynchon Black Velvet Lot 49

Oh and I almost forgot—If you’ve made it this far down, you’re probably already aware that this coming Friday is Pynchon in Public Day. If you’re in Melbourne and want to talk/read Pynchon in a bar, let me know @drunkpynchon on twitter.

Barcelona Beer (Estrella / Moritz)

Pynchon Estrella VIn the epilogue of V., Stencil’s headed off to lunch or something with Maijstral when he’s intercepted by someone who seems to be “a Greek Pope or parish priest.” They abandon Maijstral and proceed down an alley, and the priest pulls off his beard and skull cap, revealing himself as Demivolt, one of Stencil’s spy compadres from Whitehall. Page 469/470 (with a couple paragraphs skipped in the middle):

Demivolt removed the soutane and rolled his paraphernalia in it. Underneath he wore a suit of English tweed. After quickly recombing his hair and twirling his moustache, he looked no different from the Demivolt Stencil had last seen in ’99. Except for more gray in the hair, a few more lines in the face. They took seats at the Cafe Phoenicia, Stencil with his back to the street. Briefly, over Barcelona beer each filled the other in on the two decades between the Vheissu affair and here, voices monotone against the measured frenzy of the street.

V Barcelona Beer PynchonBarcelona beer most likely means Estrella, which has been brewed there since the establishment of the S. A. Damm brewing company in 1876. Estrella is Catalan for star, and is it grasping too desperately at straws if I point out that a star is made up of five little Vs? Yes okay bit over keen maybe. It’s brewed with pearl rice in the mix, a bit like Budweiser. Tastes like Budweiser too, if I’m remembering Bud right. Crisp, bright, sweet, clean. Not real interesting, but pretty good as far as cheap lagers go. If I were a spy sitting in the sun at a Maltese cafe catching up on spy gossip, I’d happily quaff a few Estrella’s.

Pynchon alcohol Moritz SpainUPDATE: Someone conscientiously pointed out to me on twitter that Moritz was another possible Barcelona beer, so I’ve returned to do the responsible thing and sample that too. Moritz is a bit more interesting than Estrella, with a hoppier pilsner flavour and a stronger sweet malt finish. But for a thirst-quenching pleasant cheapish lager, I’d probably prefer the Estrella. Oh and the typographical symbolism plot thickens! That Moritz M sure does resemble two Vs, doesn’t it?