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.

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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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.

Merry Christmas! (Pink Champagne)

A very merry Christmas to Pynchonites and friends the world over. I hear it’s a warm one for you Northern Hemisphere folks. Down here in Australia, we’ve enjoyed a relatively cool 33 °C (91 of your funny Fahrenheit degrees). Admittedly not eggnog weather. But this pink Champagne went down a treat.

DSC_4670 (1).jpgIt’s Moutard Père et Fils Rosé Champagne. The presentable bubbles come to us courtesy of Gravity’s Rainbow, where they show up in a merry, if not actually Christmassy, context. From page 213:

VULGAR SONG

Last night I poked the Queen of Transylvan-ia,
Tonight I’ll poke the Queen of Burgundee–
I’m bordering on the State of Schizophren-ia,
But Queenie is so very nice to me….
It’s pink champagne and caviar for break-fast,
A spot of Chateaubriand wiv me tea–
Ten-shilling panatelas now are all that I can smoke,
I laugh so much you’d think the world was just a silly joke,
So call me what you will, m’ lads, but make way for the bloke
That’s poked the love-ly little Queen of Transyl-vaayn-yaa!

Beautiful sentiments for the holidays. We did indeed polish off our pink Champagne for breakfast here, if sans caviar.  Anyway get back to your families! Merry Christmas! I hope everyone appreciates the Pynchon books you gave them!

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

Quimporto

It’s been a while… so I’m back with a bit of a weird one. Weird enough even to be called weird in Gravity’s Rainbow, which let’s face it is itself pretty weird. Page 615:

Clive Mossmoon and Sir Marcus Scammony sit in their club, among discarded back copies of British Plastics, drinking the knight’s favorite, Quimporto—a weird pre-war mixture of quinine, beef-tea and port—with a dash of Coca-Cola and a peeled onion.

Deeeelicious. But no one said “Every drink in every Pynchon novel” was an easy gig. I’ve mixed myself up a quimporto, or an approximation of one. Quinine is not something you can just buy straight any more, but it’s the main flavour in tonic water, so I’ve used that. For the beef tea: Bovril. This may or may not be what Mossmoon and Scammony are using. Bovril was developed in the 1870s (for Napolean??), and it certainly is very English—fit for a Knight of the Empire like Scammony. My impression is that Bovril is (and would have been) referred to as beef tea; English readers could let me know if this is right.  But beef tea is also something you can make fresh by boiling beef bones, so there’s a chance they’re using that instead. My port was an Australian tawny. The Coca-Cola was Coca-Cola. The peeled onion was one of those creepy bright green ones.

Quimporto Pynchon

In the his Gravity’s Rainbow Companion, Weisenberger calls the quimporto “seemingly awful.” Weisenberger’s not wrong. It made challenging drinking. The thing was really pretty repulsive, especially on the first few sips. Even just the beef tea on its own was gross. After adding port and tonic water and coke and an onion, well, this concoction made the Disgusting English Candy Drill sound like a piece of cake. I’m still trying to drink it as I write this, and I’m a bit concerned that attempting to describe the taste might push it off the edge of bearability into spew-land.

Here’s a try anyway. It’s quinine bite up the front and sweet from the port and coke, then a swimming muddy beefed grapey strangeness, with more beefiness on the aftertaste. Despite that description, the flavours do come together surprisingly well in some ways—it’s disgusting, but it also tastes somehow coherent. Coherent enough to make me think that Pynchon didn’t just make this drink up, or if he did, that he spent some time testing it out. Couldn’t really tell you what proportions I used though. Slightly more beef tea than port, bit less tonic water, less coke than that. But yeah, nasty.

We should note however, that this stuff is actually Scammony’s favourite. And would you take my word over that of a British knight (if one with some odd proclivities)? Why not pull out your jar of Bovril and make up your own mind…

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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…