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 Scottish phonetic accent 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

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