Brandy and Soda

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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.

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!

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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?

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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Vodka with Milk, Vegetable Soup, and Watermelon Juice

Guardian comment V vodka

…so quoth a commenter when the Guardian books first introduced our frivolous little endeavour to the world. And I know of course one shouldn’t read the comments and less still feed the trolls, but I have been looking forward to this post ever since.

Pynchon in Public PodcastAs any true Pynchonite should realise, Pynchondom abounds with dedicated souls who wouldn’t blink at slurping down a vodka and milk for the cause. Two of the most dedicated of all must be the hosts of the marvellous Pynchon in Public Podcast, Chris and Bo. I had the great honour of appearing on their latest episode, where we drank this on air. Chris took the milk, Bo the vegetable soup, and I the watermelon juice. Get yourself over there now and listen, they’ve edited out all my drunken slurping noises, it’s a fun time. Here’s the iTunes. Very excitingly, they’re about to start a season on Gravity’s Rainbow — never a better time to jump aboard there if you haven’t already.

The vodka with milk/soup/watermelon is, as AbsurdistGeographer helpfully explained, drank at the tail end of a party near the beginning of V. It’s a pretty sombre party though. Here’s the passage (p. 18):

They would sit around a table in Teflon’s kitchen: Pig Bodine and Dewey Gland facing them [Paola and Benny] one each like partners at bridge, a vodka bottle in the middle. Nobody would talk except to argue about what they would mix the vodka with next when what they had ran out. That week they tried milk, canned vegetable soup, finally the juice from a dried up piece of watermelon which was all Teflon had left in the refrigerator. Try to squeeze a watermelon into a small tumbler sometime when your reflexes are not so good. It is next to impossible. Picking the seeds out of the vodka proved also to be a problem, and resulted in a growing, mutual ill-will.

We split the drinks up on the podcast, but I couldn’t let the two I didn’t take pass me by entirely. So let’s go, round two, I’m tackling them all again.

Disclaimer: I drank these on seperate evenings. Attempting to drink all three at once may lead to profound unhappiness.

First up: vodka with milk. 

Pynchon Vodka with Milk

I got home from work ready for a beer and instead dropped a shot of vodka in a tall glass of cold milk (just in case my dedication is still in question). It didn’t really taste too horrible, which seemed wrong, so I added more vodka. This did amp up the grossness considerably. It somehow seemed far creamier than just ordinary milk, which combined with the vegetal/metallic vodka edge and slight alcohol burn just got really weird, particularly as you get more than a few sips in. I guess it wasn’t totally awful. A big milk fan could probably dig it. I struggled.

Next: vodka with vegetable soup. 

Vodka with Vegetable Soup Pynchon

Well doesn’t this one just make the other two look like strawberry daiquiris. It’s shudderingly gross. Bo elected out of his own free will to drink it on the podcast (his version is pictured below). I still have lingering guilt over suggesting this particular trio. Thinking that Pig Bodine and co wouldn’t bother with heating, Bo left it cold. I’ve done the same. Cold vegetable soup out of a glass is gross enough to begin with; vodka takes it to a new level of spewiness. As I think Bo found on the podcast, much of the vodka seems to float to the top, being less dense than soup. That means it starts horrible but gets milder and milder. By the time I was eating the last celery and corn out of the glass with a spoon, it was almost enjoyable. Almost.

Bo Pynchon Soup

Last up: vodka with watermelon juice. 
Rotten Watermelon PynchonI drank this one on the podcast, mashing the juice straight out of a fresh watermelon. That wasn’t really fair, seeing as V clearly specifies a “dried up” piece of watermelon, and the hosts were drinking the nastier mixes above. I kept the rest of the watermelon in the fridge though, ready for a crustier reprise here. Probably because I sealed it in tupperware though, it didn’t dry up at all — it turned to soggy mouldy pulp. Yum. Luckily I had one chunk in the freezer, and that defrosted into a flaccid but (crucially) mould-free source of juice. If this fails to follow the letter of the drink as set down in V, it is at least loyal to the spirit of just using whatever you’ve got, whatever particular grossness that might entail.

The result was drinkable, but not wonderful. Just stale watermelon. It looked pretty! Pynchon’s not wrong though, picking the seeds out sure was irritating.

Pynchon Watermelon Vodka

What are you still doing here? Go listen to Pynchon in Public!

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

Champagne Cocktails

Pynchon Champagne CocktailsWith all the drinking in Pynchon, you’d think there’d be a few more recognisable bars dotting his fictional landscapes. But the only one that really jumps out to me is The Scope, which we find out on the way to LA, near the Yoyodyne factory in The Crying of Lot 49. From chapter three:

The Scope proved to be a haunt for electronics assembly people from Yoyodyne. The green neon sign outside ingeniously depicted the face of an oscilloscope tube, over which flowed an ever-changing dance of Lissajous figures. Today seemed to be payday, and everyone inside to be drunk already. Glared at all the way, Oedipa and Metzger found a table in back. A wizened bartender wearing shades materialized and Metzger ordered bourbon. Oedipa, checking the bar, grew nervous. There was this je ne sais quoi about the Scope crowd: they all wore glasses and stared at you, silent. Except for a couple-three nearer the door, who were engaged in a nose-picking contest, seeing how far they could flick it across the room.

Which now that I think of it sounds about what I imagine a bar full of Pynchonites might end up like. The place also has an electronic music only policy, and the fact that Pynchon plays this for laughs has me yearning for 1965, now that the whole world seems to have adopted such a policy.

Pynchon Posthorn Cocktail Lot 49Oedipa first comes across the muted post-horn, that foremost symbol of Pynchonoia, on a wall of The Scope’s ladies room. And she returns to the place a couple more times. Lot 49’s last drink is drank there midway through the sixth and final chapter:

She did go back to The Scope, though, one night, restless, alone, leery of what she might find. She found Mike Fallopian, a couple weeks into raising a beard, wearing button-down olive shirt, creased fatigue pants minus cuffs and belt loops, two-button fatigue jacket, no hat. He was surrounded by broads, drinking champagne cocktails, and bellowing low songs. When he spotted Oedipa he gave her the wide grin and waved her over.

Pynchon Black Pearl French 75What a wonderful name is Mike Fallopian. It’s times like these I wish I had a copy of Pynchon Character Names: A Dictionary. But I’ll leave you to produce your own commentary on Mike’s reproductive capacity in the narrative and focus my energy on the champagne cocktails. I tried to knock this one off a couple of weeks ago at the excellent if kind of dated feeling Black Pearl, where I downed a delightful French 75. A French 75 is basically an upgraded Tom Collins, with champagne instead of soda water. That’s it there on the left. But so then I got busy and didn’t get around to writing the post–and plus, it does say cocktails plural. So let’s have a couple more.

I thought I’d try my hand at inventing my own. That’s the result pictured up top—and I don’t think it was half bad. Metzger’s bourbon in The Scope from chapter three wasn’t specific enough to make the list on its own, so I’ve incorporated it here. Here’s my recipe:

The Posthorn
Champagne (or actually I used Prosecco)
Bourbon (I used Blanton’s—great stuff)
Lime juice
Blackcurrant Cordial

With the quantities being mysteries lost to history. I found a point where it all seemed to balance nicely, and you could taste the bourbon and it was just sweet enough, but I sure couldn’t tell you what the ratios were. Was pretty proud of how it ended up though.

Two’s not plural enough, so I also whipped up some of these babies, which were very delicious. Passionfruit pulp, various other juices, and Prosecco. And then to top it all off I tried a black velvet—champagne and Guinness. Also good!

Pynchon Posthorn cocktailPynchon cocktail Lot 49Pynchon Black Velvet Lot 49

Oh and I almost forgot—If you’ve made it this far down, you’re probably already aware that this coming Friday is Pynchon in Public Day. If you’re in Melbourne and want to talk/read Pynchon in a bar, let me know @drunkpynchon on twitter.