Veuve Clicquot Brut

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Season two of the Pynchon in Public podcast‘s trek through Gravity’s Rainbow is a wrap! Watch your iTunes feeds. I popped some Champagne on the air this morning in celebration.

You may notice the Champagne is pictured above in a beer mug. In this, as in the choice of the specific Champagne house, I follow the good example of Lt Tyrone Slothrop. He gets Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck and a casino-full of possible conspirators sloshed on the stuff during a drinking game of grand proportions. Page 252:

‘Garçon.’ Drinks here are always on the house for Slothrop — They are springing for it, he imagines. ‘Some of that champagne! Wantcha to just keep it coming, and any time we run out, go get more, comprendez?’ Any number of slack-jawed subalterns, hearing the magic word, drift over and take seats while Slothrop explains the rules.

“I’m not sure –” Dodson-Truck begins.

“Baloney. Come on, do you good to get outa that chess rut.”

“Right, right,” agree the others.

Dodson-Truck stays in his seat, a bit tense.

“Bigger glasses,” Slothrop hollers at the waiter. “How about those beer mugs over there! Yeah! They’d be just fine.” The waiter unblasts a Jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot Brut, and fills everybody up.

DSC_5837 (1).jpgMany bottles later, the waiters switch to sweet Taittinger, among other cheaper options, corks growing “straighter, less mushroomy” once everyone’s too far gone to care. I’m in no hurry to move on. It’s mid afternoon here now, and I’ve been idly sipping on Veuve Clicquot since sometime this morning. (Just one beer mug’s worth–I’m not knocking them back like the patrons of the Casino Hermann Goering). It’s fresh and zippy and very enjoyable. Just like the Pynchon in Public podcast. Sort of. The podcast’s got more shit and death than the Champagne. But otherwise. Just like it.

The drunken party ends up opening a chink in the armour of Their machine for Slothrop, with Dodson-Truck confessing his part in the plot and his knowledge of Slothrop’s conditioning. It sets rolling the boulder that gets our Tyrone the hell outta the Riviera, out of the sights of the White Visitation and co, and off into his Rocket-hunt through Europe. Drinking games are serious business, folks.

Tanqueray No. 10

Although it is fairly icy cold in Melbourne and probably best suited to a whiskey and a fireplace, today is World Gin Day and I do not wish to attract the displeasure of the World Gin Police. Drunk Pynchonette and I have a resolutely summery gin old-fashioned each.

IMG_0250.jpgThe particular gin is Tanqueray No. 10, pulled from the same top-shelf p. 303 Bleeding Edge bar (“elaborately carved in a number of neo-Egyptian motifs”) that brought you Stolichnaya Elit. Maybe head back to that post for the deets on the party.

I’m reliably informed that Tanqeray No. 10 is a fruitier, more floral version of the normal Tanqueray London Dry Gin. At the time of Bleeding Edge, Tanq 10 would have only been on the market for about a year—it was introduced in 2000. Now it’s August 2001, “microsoft XP has just emerged from beta.” The Tworkeffx honchos, or at least the “out of work hackers” and “street-level drug dealers” tending their bar, are up to the minute on their fancy booze as well as their technology.

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My gin old-fashioneds consist of a shot of the Tanq 10, a teaspoon of simple syrup, and a dash of angostura bitters, basically like the traditional bourbon Old-Fashioned we sipped with Slothrop. I’ve never been a gin drinker in the past, but I’m finding these mightily enjoyable. The first impression is a bit medicinal, but that unfolds into a complex subtle floral citrusy delight. They taste still recognisably like an old-fashioned, but an old-fashioned from a super-fresh alternative universe.

Happy world gin day. Now where’s my whiskey.

Whisky Sours

DSC_5586.jpg8 May is universally recognised and celebrated as Pynchon in Public day. Parades fill the streets from Venice Beach to Vheissu; confetti pours from airships over all the world’s great capitals. In celebration of this grand holiday, I gathered some compadres to join Oedipa Maas and me for a whisky sour.

DSC_5582Boilermaker House whipped us up a batch of their somewhat unconventional whisky sours with passionfruit and beer (the recipe is here). The drinks came adorned with moustache patterns—I guess the bartenders couldn’t find their muted post-horn stencils.

Oedipa mixes a jug of (likely more straightforward) whisky sours while preparing for Mucho’s return from work on the afternoon she learns of Pierce’s will. On page 2 of the Vintage edition I just bought today when I realised my sister has and is probably dog-earing my old copy:

Oedipa had been named also to execute the will in a codicil dated a year ago. She tried to think back to whether anything unusual had happened around then. Through the rest of the afternoon, through her trip to the market in downtown Kinneret-Among-The-Pines to buy ricotta and listen to the Muzak (today she came through the bead-curtained entrance around bar 4 of the Fort Wayne Settecento Ensemble’s variorum recording of the Vivaldi Kazoo Concerto, Boyd Beaver, soloist); then through the sunned gathering of her marjoram and sweet basil from the herb garden, reading of book reviews in the latest Scientific American, into the layering of a lasagna, garlicking of a bread, tearing up of romaine leaves, eventually, oven on, into the mixing of the twilight’s whiskey sours against the arrival of her husband, Wendell (“Mucho”) Maas from work, she wondered, wondered …

Later (p. 6), home from work, Mucho “glid[es] like a large bird in an updraught towards the sweating shakerful of booze.” For them both perhaps, the drink is a last cool draught of pleasant routine before Oedipa is swept into the weird tangles of the Trystero.
DSC_5593.jpgHappy Pynchon in Public day all, and happy birthday Mr Pynchon! Try and squeeze out another book before the big eight zero hey?

Cactus Beer

DSC_5507Around page 82 of Against the Day, we learn a little backstory on Viekko, Webb Traverse’s potato-spirit bootlegging buddy. He and some comrades at one point had been rounded up for miners union activities and dumped in the southern San Juans deep in the middle of the night. They half expect to be executed, but are just left to walk bootless, warned to stay out of Colorado. Page 83:

It turned out they were near an Apache reservation, and the Indians were kind enough to take Veikko and a few others in for a while, not to mention share a bottomless supply of cactus beer. They thought it was funny that white men should act quite so disagreeably toward other whites, treating them indeed almost as if they were Indians, some of them already believing that Colorado, because of its shape, had actually been created as a reservation for whites.

The narrator goes on to mention that Webb has never seen patriotic Veikko raise a glass “that wasn’t dedicated to the fall of the Russian Tsar and his evil viceroy General Bobrikoff.” I’m much enjoying the image of him raising such a toast over a mug of cactus beer on the reservation, tumbleweeds passing.

DSC_5551 (2).jpgMy cactus beer is Otra Vez, a new addition to Sierra Nevada’s core range. It’s a gose with grapefruit and prickly pear cactus fruits. They seem to intend it as a hot-weather smasher, except with character. Gose’s have a bit of salt in the brew, so it’s practically exercise electrolite drink.

It’s a nice pale straw colour. Smells intriguing–sweet and grapefruity with some chewy vegetal thing that I’m telling myself is the cactus. The taste is slightly tart, lots of fruit juice, zero bitterness. Complex though. It tastes like some strange fruit you’re trying for the first time on holidays in a tropical country, proffered by a laughing stranger. I guess perhaps like a prickly pear fruit.

Gose is a traditional German style, so this very likely bears no resemblance to the brew Veikko shares with the Apache tribe. Actually, I think they’re drinking pulque, a beer fermented from the sap of the agave cactus. Pulque comes up several more times in AtD, and you can still get it in Mexico today. In a book with the tremendously AtD-relevant title of Alcohol and Opium in the Old West, the author describes how the Apache and Zuni tribes created the stuff and also introduced it to the Aztecs. So that’s almost certainly the cactus beer they’re getting stuck into. But I shall return to pulque in a future post! For now, this makes a very appropriate fusion of German tradition and the American frontier.

Gin Marshmallows

I hope everyone is digging the new season of the Pynchon in Public podcast. After three seasons pissing around with minor works, they’ve finally bit the bullet (or, I suppose, the rocket) and taken on the big one: Gravity’s Rainbow. (I kid—they’ve been doing great and noble work from the beginning. If you haven’t heard the earlier seasons, treasures await you here).

DSC_5442The current season of the podcast is covering the first part of Gravity’s Rainbow. In celebration, here’s a treat from one of that section’s most beloved scenes: Mrs Quoad’s gin marshmallow from the Disgusting English Candy Drill. I’ve been looking forward to this.

DSC_5327Slothrop one day around page 114 runs into Darlene, “an adorable tomato in a nurse uniform,” whose name he can sort of remember. They head back to her flat, where they find her elderly landlord/housemate Mrs Quoad sitting in the “grainy shadows” among “grease-hazy jars of herbs, candies, spices” listening to Primo Scala’s Accordion Band on the wireless. And Mrs Quoad does swiftly and with gusto commence stuffing those candies down Slothrop’s throat. He ingests a dizzying array of variously repulsive English confections, struggling more and more as the ordeal continues. The English women aren’t impressed (p.118):

“Show a little backbone,” advises Mrs. Quoad.

“Yes,” Darlene through tongue-softened sheets of caramel, “don’t you know there’s a war on? Here now love, open your mouth.”

Through the tears he can’t see it too well, but he can hear Mrs. Quoad across the table going “Yum, yum, yum,” and Darlene giggling. It is enormous and soft, like a marshmallow, but somehow—unless something is now going seriously wrong with his brain—it tastes like: gin. “Wha’s ‘is,” he inquires thickly.

“A gin marshmallow,” sez Mrs. Quoad.

“Awww…”

DSC_5358.jpgIs a gin marshmallow really such an abomination? It has to be the most palatable item in Mrs Quoad’s catalogue of sugary horrors. I’m eating one as I type this now, and I can attest to their being a bit weird. But not entirely undelicious. They’re pleasingly squishy and sweet, pervaded by a medicinal gin haze that would definitely bewilder anyone expecting a regular marshmallow. But if you know what you’re getting into, it kind of works.

Here’s the recipe I cobbled together, mostly following Cooked, but simplified a little and with extra gin all through:

Gin Marshmallows
Dissolve 460 g of caster sugar and 1 tbs of glucose syrup in 170 mL water and 15 mL of gin. Bring to the boil and simmer, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 127°C.

Meanwhile, sprinkle 2 tbs of gelatine powder over 170 mL cold water and 15 mL gin. Heat in the microwave for 30–45 seconds on High (100%), or until the gelatine has dissolved and the liquid is clear.

When the sugar syrup reaches 115°C, whisk three egg whites until frothy. Add 55 g sugar and whisk until thick and glossy.

When the sugar syrup reaches 127°C, turn off the heat. When the bubbles subside, add the dissolved gelatine.

Slowly pour the hot syrup mixture into the egg whites while beating. Continue beating for a small eternity, until the mixture is very thick and holds its shape.

Add a shot of gin and teaspoon of lemon zest, and whisk some more.

Scrape the mixture into a tin and give it a few hours to set.

Pynchon In Public Day is not so far away (May 8)–perhaps you can whip up a batch of your own to celebrate. Or go one step further and try your hand at Mrs Quoad’s “Mayonnaise Marmalade Suprises.” Do let me know how they are.

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Dão wine

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Fleetwood Vibe, most mysterious son of that sinister household, recalls on page 168 his travels in Mozambique—then a colony of Portugal:

Debarking at Lourenço Marques, he spent a week in various local cantinhas, gathering information, as he liked to think of it. This required a tidy lakeful of Portuguese colonial-market wine, the rotgut rejectamenta of Bucelas and Dão, among puzzled looks from the locals who by tradition were its devotees. 

The only information he really seems to be gathering is on the limits of his own intoxicatibility. Somehow though, the lakeful of wine does lend him the inspiration to head to Johannesburg and make himself a fortune. Later, fortune made, he returns to Portuguese Mozambique, “turning up one day back at the old local saloon, standing rounds till closing time,” (p. 169).

DSC_5170.jpgProbably not the most expensive rounds to stand, given that the house specialty is “rotgut rejectamenta.”

The particular regions credited with producing the rotgut, Bucelas and Dão, are DOC-protected regions in Portugal. Dão, Wikipedia states, is one of the longest-established wine regions in the country. Being rejectamenta, I guess we shouldn’t expect Fleetwood’s rotgut Dão to reflect the finer possibilities of the terroir.

I wouldn’t classify the bottle of Dão wine in front of me quite as rotgut (how will I ever convince a wine store to sponsor this blog using language like that?). It was pretty cheap though. The shop had a pricier Dão that I faithfully eschewed. Rather than particularly corrosive, this just tastes a bit thin and bland. Enjoyable enough with food, but not very exciting. Insubstantial—almost like ghostly Fleetwood himself, detectable “only in the way some can detect ghosts…”

Rye Whiskey

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Rye shows up in both Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland. In a weird coincidence, the paragraphs in the two books that mention the stuff both also mention Superman. Here they are.

Gravity’s Rainbow (p. 752):

Superman will swoop boots-first into a deserted clearing, a launcher-erector sighing oil through a slow seal-leak, gum evoked from the trees, bitter manna for this bitterest of passages. The colors of his cape will wilt in the afternoon sun, curls on his head begin to show their first threads of gray. Philip Marlowe will suffer a horrible migraine and reach by reflex for the pint of rye in his suit pocket, and feel homesick for the lacework balconies of the Bradbury Building.

Vineland (p. 134):

“Superman could change back into Clark Kent,” she had once confided to Frenesi, “don’t underestimate it. Workin’ at the Daily Planet was the Man o’ Steel’s Hawaiian vacation, his Saturday night in town, his marijuana and his opium smoke, and oh what I wouldn’t give….” An evening newspaper … anyplace back in the Midwest … she would leave work around press time, make a beeline for some walk-down lounge, near enough to the paper that she could feel vibrations from the presses through the wood of the bar. Drink rye, wipe her glasses on her tie, leave her hat on indoors, gossip in the dim light with the other regulars. In the winter it would already be dark outside the windows. The polished shoes would pick up highlights as the street lamps got brighter … she wouldn’t be waiting for anybody or anything to happen, because she’d only be Clark Kent.

In both cases, the rye is associated with a fictional character (and not one of Pynchon’s own characters). In Vineland, DL imagines herself as Clark Kent drinking rye. In Gravity’s Rainbow, it’s not actually Superman with the rye, but Phillip Marlowe from Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, crammed into the same paragraph as Superman and with both characters slipping into uncharacteristic decline.

DSC_5043No one drinks rye in Pynchon, or even imagines themselves doing so. They imagine fictional characters drinking it. Maybe that’s because referring to someone “drinking rye” is more of a cute, quaint expression than something anyone would actually say. In reality, we’d usually just say bourbon or whiskey, even if the liquid in question was actually rye whiskey. The phrases “drinking rye” and “pint of rye” have the sheen of fiction–especially the kind of genre fiction where we’d find Superman or Marlowe. Pynchon isn’t so much playing with these genre tropes as deftly illustrating the way they play in his characters’ minds.

The bottle o’ rye I have before me here is the Sazerac Rye from the ever reliable (ryeliable?) Buffalo Trace. I first tried it during a tasting with a Southern gentleman wise in the ways of American whiskey. It was my favourite of the array he brought over that night, and it remains mighty enjoyable. Peppery banana, caramel and vanilla. I read someone say ginger. Definitely spicy, relatively mild—really entirely too pleasant to leave for the fictional characters.