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 smiles. 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.

DSC_9848

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.

Absinthe with water

From Hemingway’s Papa Doble, on to another drink with a great literary/artistic pedigree: absinthe. We’re all familiar with its green fairy aura of inspired madness and creative self-annihilation. The stuff’s been put away by Baudelaire, Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Modigliani, etc etc etc. Even more impressively, it gets mentioned in both V. and Gravity’s Rainbow. In V., a not exactly gallant sounding bloke called Ferrante is described as “a drinker of absinthe and destroyer of virginity,” and Signor Mantissa remembers a “blond seamstress in Lyons” who “would drink absinthe at night and torture herself for it in the afternoons.” 

Absinthe Pynchon Gravity's Rainbow

Well and then in GR absinthe gets some even better peripheral press, aboard the fun-filled Anubis

Slothrop looks around and finds Miklos Thanatz, full beard, eyebrows feathering out like trailing edges of hawks’ wings, drinking absinthe out of a souvenir stein on which, in colors made ghastly by the carnivals lights on deck, bony and giggling Death is about the surprise the two lovers in bed. 

And what a Gravity’s Rainbow sentence is that. Crazy looking dude with a whole stein of absinthe, reflecting the wider scene in the lights of the boat while also telling a (highly relevant) inset narrative of Death gleefully interrupting love. Plus then one stein of 70% alcohol isn’t enough:

Thanatz is holding out his stein for a refill. The waiter, deadpan, dribbles water down a spoon to turn the absinthe milky green while Thanatz caresses his buttocks, then moves away.

I went hunting for some milky green of my own at Canvas in Brisbane (highly recommended, if not quite such a temple of hedonism as the Anubis). They had an absinthe/pastis tasting flight on offer (pastis being an anise liqueur with a similar flavour to absinthe). Thanks to another generous benefactor, I sampled a bit (not quite a stein-full) of each of:

  • Ricard Pastis 45%
  • Henri Bardonuin Pastis 45%
  • Koruna Bohemian Absinth 73%
  • Mansinthe 66.6%

This is admittedly a bit of a weird list for an “absinthe” tasting, not actually including any French absinthe. The pastis are French but wormwoodless. The Koruna is Czech–hence the lack of an “e” on “absinth.” Only the Mansinthe is actually absinthe with an “e”, and it’s made by Marilyn Manson. Which explains the inauspicious 66.6% alcohol concentration. Manson’s stuff does seem to be pretty legit though, distilled from the proper herbs in Switzerland with no added sugar. Anyway, those other three are close enough to count too. The waiter warned me that the last two contained wormwood, but “not the crazy cut-your-ear-off van Gogh kind.”

Gravity's Rainbow Absinthe Pynchon

All four of them were very aniseedy, of course. The Ricard Pastis tasted like sweet liquoriche. All the flavours seemed to be arranged really differently in your mouth compared to other spirits I’m more used to. Watery on the front, then getting all syrupy and rich. The Henri Boudin was less sweet, with stronger herbal notes. The Bohemian absinth really upped the ante, in taste as well as alcohol—a sharp rich spike of peppermint up front, plenty of burn filling it out. Complex and kind of invigorating. The Mansinthe was a bit of a mellower take on the same, with some fruity nutty notes too I thought. But less interesting than the Koruna. 

That’s all before the water. After dripping some water from a pretty little jug into each, their flavours changed pretty dramatically. Most acquired smokier notes; the Czech one even had a dark chocolate thing going on. Mansinthe seemed to get more vegetabley. And of course, just as Pynchon writes, their appearance changes too. Each drop of water sends a little smoky mist spiralling through the liquid, and they do turn totally milky with enough water. I forgot to take a photo–which forgetfulness is by the way about the strongest absinthe symptom I experienced. No hallucinations here. 

That milky mist shows up again late in GR, in the Counterforce, when Roger Mexico (one of my favourite GR characters) makes his glorious statistician’s reappearance, raging into Mossmoon’s office trying to rescue Slothrop from Their machine:  

He’s looking into a room of incandescent lemon-lime subdued drastically, almost to the milky point of absinthe-and-water, a room warmer than this tableful of faces really deserves, but perhaps it’s Roger’s entrance that deepens the color a bit now as he runs and jumps up on the polished table, over the polished head of a director of a steel company, skidding 20 feet down the waxed surface to confront the man at the end, who sits with a debonair (well, snotty) smile on his face. “Mossmoon, I’m on to you.” 

Then he relieves himself, of both urine and rage, all over everything. A good note to end on. 

Papa Doble (and a giveaway!)

Bleeding Edge paperback PynchonThe paperback of Bleeding Edge comes out tomorrow in the US. That’s the updated cover passing on our right. The press release from Penguin Press reminds me (as I’m sure I don’t have to remind you) that the book is “dazzling and ludicrous,” “full or verbal sass and pizzazz … totally gonzo, totally wonderful,” “a necessary novel and one that literary history has been waiting for.” Which all sounds pretty dead on.

In celebration of the first appearance of this great novel in lighter floppier form, I have here (thanks to Penguin Press) five copies of the book to give you. Hopefully not all five of them to just one of you, but something more like maybe one each to five of you. If you want one, just leave a comment at the bottom here.

But first! The Papa Doble. In Chapter Six of BE, the appearance of political activist from way back March Kelleher gets Maxine reminiscing about their first meeting, “ten or fifteen years ago… when landlords were reverting to type and using Gestapo techniques to get sitting tenants to move.” They meet at a protest against their landlord, and head for a drink when it starts to get dark.

The nearest bar was the Old Sod, technically Irish, though an aging gay Brit or two may have wandered infrequently in. The drink March had in mind was a Papa Doble, which Hector the bartender, previously only seen drawing beers and pouring shots, assembled for March as if he’d been doing it all week. Maxine had one too, just to keep her company.

The Papa Doble is a drink with serious literary history, centred on that most famously boozed-up man of letters, Ernest Hemingway. In 1932, Hemingway was escaping prohibition living in Cuba, and frequenting a bar called La Floridita–the home of the Daiquiri. Hemingway, being Papa Doble Pynchon Bleeding EdgeHemingway, ordered his with double the rum and none of the sugar. Papa was Hemingway’s nickname in Cuba; doble is Spanish for double: the Papa Doble was born. Double white rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and maraschino liqueur. The WSJ has a great history here. As the BE Wiki points out, it’s an appropriate drink for civil activist March Kelleher, given Hemingway’s own fight against facism in the Spanish Civil War.

To get mine, I wandered last night into New Gold Mountain, a pretty well-hidden bar in Melbourne that I’d previously found by accident trying to go somewhere else. (This is a snazzy cocktail bar and not an unlikely Irish pub, but I figured March and Maxine’s experience was unrepeatable.) I resisted their beautiful drink menu, had a chat to the bartender about Papa Doble history, and whipped out Bleeding Edge for some sneaky photos. When he brought over our drinks he told me he “made it with sugar because if you drink it the way Hemingway had it it’s pretty unpalatable–he was a degenerate alcoholic after all.” Which, well, I’m not complaining. It was a mighty enjoyable drink. Sour and sweet and very nicely balanced. It’s not hard to see how old Hemo could have knocked back a dozen or so of the unsweetened version.

Oh but and I have books to give away! If you want to get your hands on the newly-portable paperback Bleeding Edge, comment below and include your email address so I can get in touch with you. Bonus points for photos with books and/or alcohol. Five people with US addresses will win. (If you can’t see a comments box, you might have to make sure you’re only viewing this post, and not my whole front page.) If you don’t need another copy, send your friends my way! Cheers!