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.

Gallo wine with ice

Gallo wine Pynchon V.

After a couple of moody European spirits (oude jenever and absinthe), it seems about time we have something more frivolous. This one definitely fits that bill. It’s pink and light and sweet and totally without bite.

At the start of Chapter Six of V., Profane’s just finished his first day (or actually, night) of alligator hunting in the sewers of New York. Angel and Geronimo and he return to street level at about 5 a.m., and the two of them shove him into a too-small suit to go out celebrating. Fina has sick leave coming up, so she tags along too, and Angel and Geronimo call up Dolores and Pilar, two girls they know.

The six of them started at an after-hours club up near 125th Street, drinking Gallo wine with ice in it. A small group, vibes and rhythm, played listlessly in one corner. These musicians had been to school with Angel, Fina and Geronimo. During the breaks they came over and sat at the table. They were drunk and threw pieces of ice at each other. Everybody talked in Spanish and Profane responded in what Italo-American he’d heard around the house as a kid. There was about 10 per cent communication but nobody cared: Profane was only guest of honor.

EGallo wine pynchon ice cubesarly morning in an after-hours jazz club isn’t the first environment I’d choose for cheap sweet wine with ice. I was thinking more like summer afternoon by the pool. But Pynchon is a wise man, and I think I could actually drink this very happily at a sleepless 6 a.m. (Am I right in assuming jazz club, by the way? I’ve never come across ‘vibes and rhythm’ music before, but I’m imagining this might be an example of the form?) It just goes down so easy.

Gallo are apparently the largest family-owned wine producer in the US, but they don’t export much to Australia. This bottle of White Zinfandel rosé was the only thing of theirs I could find here. I guess we’re already pretty well equipped with cheap drinkable wines. The bottle says it tastes like cherry and watermelon with hints of raspberry; I get plenty of the latter two, no cherry. It’d benefit in my books from a bit of body or bite, but as it is it’s totally pleasant. I’ll recommend it to my mum, and maybe even reach for it again myself should I need something one 5 a.m.

Oude Genever

Now we’re getting somewhere. The beaten track just slipped out of sight. Oude Genever.DSC_9854It’s totally obscure to me, but gets a couple of runs in Pynchon, making a grand debut in Gravity’s Rainbow then popping its head up again in Mason & Dixon. In GR, it’s episode fourteen and we’re flashing back in Katje’s memory/imagining to Holland, to the V-2 battery where “nearly every day a rocket misfires,” to poor Gottfried (“eyes a seldom-encountered blue”) and to repulsive Blicero (“his teeth long, terrible, veined with bright brown rot”). The genever appears when Blicero discovers that Katje’s escaped his creepy Nazi sadomasochism party, possibly to “call down English fighter-bombers” on the house:

Blicero curses her. He flings a boot-tree at a precious TerBorch. Bombs fall to the west in the Haagsche Bosch. The wind blows, ruffling the ornamental ponds outside. Staff cars snarl away, down the long drive lined with beeches. The half-moon shines among hazy clouds, its dark half the color of aged meat. Blicero orders everyone down into the shelter, a cellarful of gin in brown crocks, open-slat crates of anemone bulbs. The slut has put his battery in the British crosshairs, the raid can come at any moment! Everybody sits around drinking oude genever and peeling cheeses. Telling stories, mostly funny ones, from before the War. By dawn, they’re all drunk and sleeping. Scraps of wax litter the floor like leaves. No Spitfires come.

Spaces littered with matching bottles show up a bit in Pynchon. One of the Slow Learner stories has champagne splits scattered everywhere, there’s that bargeful of Chianti in V., countless more I’m sure… And now all these brown crocks of gin–except they’re all getting drunk on oude genever, so it must actually be that in the crocks and not gin. Genever being almost but not quite gin; actually, more like gin’s grandfather. And brown crocks being the spirit’s traditional home.

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Thanks to Drunk Pynchonette, I now have a brown crock of my own! (Make sure not to skim that last sentence too quickly). It’s actually ceramic, which is pretty wonderful. And man, this genever is lovely stuff. It smells first and most of all like a big fresh loaf of bread. Then there’s some sweet floral junipery stuff going on underneath. Which all gives a pretty solid preview for the taste: malty, sweet, some ginish juniper. Delicate and interesting. The typical description of genever is like a light scotch blended with gin, and that does it pretty well, but maybe undersells it some. Nice stuff. “Oude” is Dutch for old, but that means using the old recipe. It’s totally unaged. 35% alcohol. There’s some interesting info on the stuff here if you want it.

Genever is Dutch, so it makes sense that all Blicero’s Nazi buddies wind up drinking the stuff sheltering in their cellar in Holland. But I’m not the first person outside of Europe to get my hands on some. In Mason & Dixon, when the pair first arrive in America, “Geneva gin” is part of the great cornucopia of goods sitting on the docks. I won’t quote it, but go look it up, it’s a beautiful passage. If you get the chance to settle into it with a glass of genever, you will be a lucky individual indeed.