Brandy and Soda

DSC_7413.jpg

The brandy and soda is a drink that seems to exist today primarily as a P. G. Wodehouse reference. It’s a basic combination that nevertheless occurs to no-one but those imitating Bertie Wooster. Surveying the internet, it appears that mention of the ‘B and S’ without reference to Jeeves and Wooster has been strictly outlawed. They do seem to be rather a Wodehouse special—Penguin describe their anthology of Wodehouse on drinking saying:

His imperishable writing displays a well-turned appreciation for all kinds of booze – cocktails, champagne, port, whiskey and brandy (with soda, of course) …

DSC_7418.jpgBut Wodehouse doesn’t have a monopoly on the combination. Pynchon (whose appreciation for booze I would argue far surpasses “well-turned”) gets in on the rather stuffy B n’ S action in one of his first published stories, “Mortality and Mercy in Vienna.,” and then again 47ish years later in Against the Day.

“Mortality and Mercy” is Pynchon’s only published early story not included in Slow Learner. An anecdote (albeit a somewhat secondhand one emerging from a postmodern hall of textual mirrors) recorded here suggests that Pynchon wrote the story in an undergraduate class at Cornell in response to a first sentence provided by the professor. I will decline to summarise the plot and instead only endorse it as being a fun read and provide you with this one relevant sentence:

He would stand, therefore, out in some street, not moving, hanging on to the briefcase and thinking about Rachel who was 4′ 10″ in her stocking feet, whose neck was pale and sleek, a Modigliani neck, whose eyes were not mirror images but both slanted the same way, dark brown almost to fathomlessness, and after awhile he would drift up to the surface again and be annoyed with himself for worrying about these things when the data inside the briefcase should have been at the office fifteen minutes ago; and realize, reluctantly, that the racing against time, the awareness of being a cog, the elan — almost roguery of the playboy element in the Commission which went well with his British staff officer appearance — even the intradepartmental scheming and counterscheming which went on in jazz cellars at two in the morning, in pensions over brandy and soda, were, after all, exciting.

That passage almost undermines the above about brandy and soda existing only as upper class British affectation, except that it does still seem to be tied to his “British staff officer appearance,” does feel a part of the Commission’s toffee old-timey culture he fits so well.

In AtD, the brandy and sodas are again hovering in the vicinity of Britishness itself, this time expressed in the persons of who else but Neville and Nigel. They’re at a performance of Waltzing in Whitechapel, a somewhat meta “musical comedy about Jack the Ripper” (p. 679). At intermission, they run into a Colonnel Max Khäutsch, encountered earlier in the book escorting Franz Ferdinand. N&N are mostly drinking cough syrup out of a flask, but Khäutsch is getting into the local spirit “working on a brandy and soda,” (p. 680).

“Working” ain’t wrong—this thing is no fun. It tastes like a visit to grandma’s house. (Not my grandmas, they’re cool grandmas. A hypothetical stereotypical attic-dwelling cobwebbed grandmother.) Dusty, musty, staid, and dull. I may have mixed it too weak, but really very little promise was showing. I can’t say I’m surprised the brandy and soda has been relegated to affected Britishism status.

Coconut Ale

dsc_7353In Chapter Three of Mason & Dixon, the Reverend Cherrycoke narrates the first excursion of our title characters in London. As Mason (“coming the Old London Hand”) inducts Dixon into the cheerful violence and mystery of the city, they encounter a group of sailors in charge of the vessel the pair are to sail on. Under the enthusiastic captaincy of Fender-Belly Bodine, the sailors are plotting to kidnap one Léarned English Dog (LED). Page 21:

“Now,— our plan, is to snatch this Critter, and for you Gents to then keep it in with your own highly guarded Cargo, out of sight of the Master-at-Arms, until we reach a likely Island,—

“Island…” “Snatch…” both Surveyors a bit in a daze.

“I’ve been out more than once to the Indies,— there’s a million islands out there, each more likely than the last, and I tell you a handful of Sailors with their wits about them, and that talking Dog to keep the Savages amused, why, we could be kings.”

“Long life to Kings!” cry several sailors.

“Aye and to Cooch Girls!”

“— and Coconut-Ale!”

“Hold,” cautions Mason. “I’ve heard they eat dogs out there.”

“Wrap ’em in palm leaves,” Dixon solemnly, “and bake ’em on the beach…?”

Happily, the Léarned D. foils the sailors in their kidnapping plot with the help of his present “exhibitors,” and all retire to the Pearl of Sumatra for a drink on Bodine’s tab.

dsc_7372But back to that Coconut Ale, apparently a delight of the Indies! I can’t find much of any information on Indigenous coconut beer in those regions. The sailors may be referring to a type of Palm Wine made from the sap of a coconut tree. But I will take them at their word and stick with a coconut ale.

This Coconut Hiwa is a porter brewed in Hawaii by Maui Brewing Company. It’s made with hand-toasted coconut, and plenty of that comes through. Were I an English sailor encountering such a thing on a sojourn in the East Indies, I would certainly find it a memorable twist on the original style from back home, and a drink well befitting an island king.

dsc_7400-2

Mâconnais

dsc_6922“It’s like licking a bloody piece of slate tile” quoth my father post-quaff of this Mâconnais. He seemed to intend this as a compliment.

dsc_6913The Mâconnais is a Southern chunk of the Burgundy wine region, known for producing value-for-money Chardonnay. This bottle (Louis Latour Les Deux Moulins Saint-Véran) did indeed seem reasonably cheap for fancy-sounding Burgundy under a a classy-looking label. Whether it constituted value or not I am ill-equipped to judge.The shop claimed it was “rich and powerful” with “toasty brioche aromas,” as if it were some kind of boulangerie magnate / French mafia boss. I remarked at first that it was one of the blandest wines I’d ever tasted. But I remain something of a philistine regarding  white wine—it may have been just too subtle and elegant for me.

In Against the Day, Yashmeen’s posse of Lorelei, Noellyn, and Faun draw a bottle of Mâconnais while convincing her to dump Cyprian. Page 494:

“But he makes me laugh.”

“Yes they are good for that,” conceded serious Noellyn, “though one does hear, more often than one would care to, this ‘he makes me laugh’ defense. There being laughter, this is, and laughter.”

“And if laughing’s what you fancy…” Lorelei held out one of the bottles of Mâconnais they had brought.

I personally didn’t find anything very humorous about the Mâconnais. It struck me instead as rather serious. But Yashmeen is a woman of unusual tastes I suppose. And perhaps I just didn’t get through enough bottles for the funny side to reveal itself.

dsc_6937

 

Absinthe Frappé

DSC_6761.jpgThis here is the fiftieth drink to join our digital cabinet of liquors! And a mighty fine addition it is too. If I were asked elect an emblematic spirit for each Pynchon book, some choices would be easy. White corn whiskey would represent Mason & Dixon. Lot 49 might be kirsch. And Against the Day would be absinthe.

The denizens of AtD take their absinthe in diverse preparations over the course of the book’s pages—soaked into cigarettes, louched with Champagne, cocktailed with rum and brandy. On this occasion, we find it in a frappé. Reef has wound up gallivanting around with Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin and her crew under the assumed identify of Thrapston Cheesely III, but that whole arrangement’s about to go south. Page 368:

They finally parted company in New Orleans after a confused and repetitive headache of a night that began at the establishment of Monsieur Peychaud, where the Sazeracs, though said to’ve been invented there, were not a patch, it seemed to Reef, on those available at Bob Stockton’s bar in Denver, though those Absinthe Frappés were another matter.

dsc_6755Pynchon doesn’t quite get his Sazerac history right here. According to the (admittedly somewhat mythologising) Sazerac Rye website, Monsieur Peychaud was indeed the inventor of the bitters that go in a Sazerac, but this was in the 1830s/40s,  before Reef was born, and Peychaud didn’t have a bar—he was an apothecary serving it for friends after hours in his pharmacy. The Sazerac became established more widely primarily thanks to the Sazerac Coffee House, and that’s likely where Reef gets his sub-par version. Anyway, let’s save the Sazerac for another time. Reef much preferred the frappé, and I’m happy to take his recommendation.

Here be the contents of my Absinthe Frappé, mostly following this recipe:

  • 1.5 shots of Pernod Absinthe
  • 1.5 shots of soda water
  • However much sugar seems necessary
  • A few mint leaves
  • A bunch of ice

All blended up together and garnished with some more mint. They taste summery and sophisticated, bright and refreshing. They look cool. Good tip all round from Reef.

Here’s to the next fifty drinks! Thanks for joining me!

dsc_6747

 

Gewurztraminer

DSC_6702.jpgWe’ve just about hit 50 Empty Bottles here at Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet, but this post marks our first occasion revisiting a passage to pull out a second drink. November last year, Against the Day led me to some apricot brandy abandoned in a safe-house cupboard. (I remarked at the time that it was a bit rough, and I can now confirm that it has been pretty much abandoned in my cupboard too). That brandy wasn’t the only booze left behind there though. Here’s the passage again (p. 718):

By the unwritten rules of these transitory dwellings, the cupboards yielded a sketchy culinary history of those who had passed through—bottles of Szekszárdi Vörös, Gewürtztraminer and apricot brandy, chocolates, coffee, biscuits, tinned sausages, wine, boxes of dried noodles of various shapes and sizes, a white cloth bag of tarhonya from the previous century.

As I remarked in the apricot brandy post, most of that stuff is pretty (and, in context, suspiciously) Hungarian. Gewurtztraminer, though, is mostly French. It’s mainly associated with the Alsace region near Germany (which explains that name). The Hungarians might not be totally off the hook however: Wikipedia does say some of these grapes grow there too, known locally as Tramini. Complicating that further is Pynchon’s use of the German spelling with the umlaut, which the French omit… Anyway, I’ve gone with an Alsace version. DSC_6677.jpg

Gewurtztraminer is supposedly characterised by a “flamboyant bouquet of lychees” and maybe I’m just suggestive but I’m finding that a pretty convincing description not just of the aroma, but also the taste and even the mouthfeel. It’s reasonably sweet, and that residual sugar, combined with a lack of acidity, gives it a distinctively lychee-esque full fleshy texture. This particular one was Dopff au Moulin 2013.

Were I abandoning a safe-house, I might try not to leave this drop behind. It’s not particularly fancy, but pleasant and interesting enough that one shouldn’t have to search too hard for an occasion to polish it off. Plus internet wine people advise that Gewurtztraminer is suitable for ageing “only a very few years” if at all, so you couldn’t expect to go back and find it later in much of a condition…

Home-brewed Beer

DSC_6652.jpg
Pynchon fans can get a bit of a bad wrap—all pretentious weirdo dudes with neck-beards. Homebrewers have something of a similar reputation. In both cases of course, reality is far more capacious than the stereotypes. But you might expect some overlap between the two communities. Any other homebrewing Pynchonites out there?

DSC_6501Pynchon’s characters lean towards the grape when it comes to DIY-fermentation. Homemade wine of various kinds shows up in V., Lot 49, Slow Learner, Vineland, Mason & Dixon, and Against the Day. But a little beer does get made too.

When Against the Day‘s Frank Traverse arrives in the hellish Telluride (in the chapter beginning around page 281), well-connected general store proprietor Ellmore Disco takes him lunching at the very popular Lupita’s, a Mexican place where “the menudo can’t be beat” and the homebrew probably ain’t bad either. Page 287:

Clerks and cashiers, birds of the night but newly risen, stockmen down from the valley, Mexican laborers streaked with brickdust, skinners waiting for the train sat alongside Negro newsboys and wives in their best hats, all indiscriminately filling the benches, grabbing and gobbling like miners in a mess hall, or standing waiting either for a seat or for one of the kids working in the kitchen to fill their lunch pails or paper sacks with chicken tortas, venison tamales, Lupita’s widely known brain tacos, bottles of home-brewed beer, sixty-degree wedges of peach pie, so forth, to take along with them.

Add Lupita’s to my list of Top Ten Pynchonian Bars & Restaurants to Visit Before You Die.DSC_6614 (1).jpg

Lupita isn’t the only brewing Against the Dayer either. On page 308, we learn that the tommyknockers also produce some DIY suds. I confess I had no recollection of who or what the tommyknockers were, AtD being swarmed with more forms of life and humanity than I can hold between my ears, but the internet reminds me (here and here) that they are the “little people of the mines,” the “underground spirits who guard the earth’s ores.” Of course. They’re hanging out down a Little Hellkite mineshaft—Page 308:

Not only had the tommyknockers found this sector of the Little Hellkite congenial—in the years since its abandonment they had converted it into a regular damn full-scale Tommyknockers Social Hall. … Those duendes were playing poker and pool here, drinking red whiskey and home-brewed beer, eating food stolen out of miners’ lunch pails as well as the pantries of the unmarrieds’ eating hall, getting into fights, telling tasteless jokes, just as you might find in any recreational club aboveground, any night of the week.

DSC_6587The only other homebrew in Pynchon’s books is way back in V., where a Willem van Wijk “waved a bottle of homemade beer” at Kurt Mondaugen, future Gravity’s Rainbow cast-member. Van Wijk has the right idea—in my experience, homebrew is often better for gesticulating with than drinking. For about the last year, Drunk Pynchonette and I have been fumbling out way towards brewing something halfway palatable. Results have been mixed. We’ve attempted four IPAs, three stouts, a brown ale, and a pale ale, with recipes derived variously from Mikkeller’s Book of Beer, Brew Better Beer, and Brewdog. The best, reassuringly, have been our most recent: two single-hop Ella IPAs. Before those, everything tasted mostly like pond sludge. But drinkable or not, the whole process is a lot of fun.

It’s also excellent preparation for an eventual batch of banana mead, perhaps the true grail (or Slothrop rocket) lurking in the background of this whole endeavour…

DSC_3066.jpg

DSC_4298.jpg

IMG_20160313_105754.jpg

Veuve Clicquot Brut

DSC_5828

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.