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.

Stolichnaya Elit

DSC_4912.jpgProbably like plenty of other Pynchonites, I found the ’90s pop-culture bandwidth overload of Bleeding Edge pleasantly jarring. Not that it was really out of character—the books are all loaded with this kind of cultural flotsam and jetsam. It’s just that Pynchon’s usually rebuilding a pop culture expired well before my time. Catching lowbrow references comprehensible without wikipedia was a strange new delight.

Get this, for example, from a Silicon Alley party Maxine attends with Horst (p. 302):

The Soviet-era sound system, looted from a failed arena somewhere in Eastern Europe, is also blasting Blink-182, Echo and the Bunnymen, Barenaked Ladies, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and other sentimental oldies while vintage stock quotations from the boom-years NASDAQ crawl along a ticker display on a frieze running the full perimeter of the ballroom, beneath giant four-by-six-meter LED screens onto which bloom and fade historical highlights like Bill Clinton’s grand-jury testimony, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” the other Bill, Gates, getting a pie in the face in Belgium, the announcement trailer for Halo, clips from the Dilbert animated TV series and the first season of SpongeBob

The list goes on. The nostalgia is both ironic and deeply felt, and hasn’t it just gotten more so (on both counts) since?

Maxine and the other revellers aren’t drunk only on nostalgia–this party is well stocked (p. 303):

The antique bar, elaborately carved in a number of neo-Egyptian motifs, was salvaged by Tworkeffx from the headquarters lodge of a semimystical outfit uptown being converted, like every structure of its scale in NYC, to residential use. If occult mojo still permeates the ancient Caucasian walnut, it is waiting its moment to manifest. What remains tonight is an appeal to fond memories of all the open bars of the nineties, where everybody here can remember drinking for free, night after night, simply by claiming affiliation with the start-up of the moment. The bartenders behind it tonight are mostly out-of-work hackers or street-level drug dealers whose business dried up after April 2000. Those who can’t help making with the free booze advice, for example, turn out to be Razorfish alumni, still the smartest people in the room. There is no bottom-shelf product here, it’s all Tanqueray No. Ten, Patrón Gran Platinum, The Macallan, Elit. Along with PBRs, of course, in a washtub full of crushed ice, for those who cannot easily deal with the prospect of an irony-free evening.

DSC_4883.jpgThat Patrón Gran Platinum will run you around $450 a bottle. Luckily for me, the other items aren’t quite so astronomically far above the bottom shelf.

I bought this Stolichnaya Elit a while back now, and it’s made cameo appearances in a couple other posts while I was getting around to this one. You can find it mixed deliciously with milk, vegetable soup, and watermelon juice here. Or playing its part in a heavy-duty tequila concoction here. It may also have contributed to a still-upcoming homemade beer post (spoiler alert: I put it in the airlock).

Straight, to a non-vodka drinker, it’s surprisingly tasty sipping. Creamy and sweet, not at all harsh. Stolichnaya calls it “ultra luxury vodka,” so I’m glad it doesn’t taste like paint thinner. Now someone send me a bottle of the Gran Platinum and I’ll compare them for you.

Apricot Brandy

Apricot Brandy Pynchon

Around page 718 of Against the Day, Cyprian and Yashmeen meet up with Ratty McHugh to discuss Yashmeen’s fear that she’s being followed, including by a “Hungarian element.” (My recollection of this passage is close to nil, but the Chumps of Choice group-read blog has great memory-refreshing summaries of AtD chapters—it’s a great travelling companion if you’re reading the book now). They retreat to a safe-house of Ratty’s, where we get this little Slothrop’s-desk description of the kitchen’s contents (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.

I don’t mean to descend into petty quibbling, but doesn’t it seem a bit lazy to include “wine” in a list that’s already mentioned two specific wines? Whatever, it’s good for my list. Right now, I’m just going to handle the apricot brandy.

Apricot brandy these days is most often a liqueur flavoured with apricots, rather than a true brandy distilled from fermented apricot juice. But the real stuff can be found. I used a bit of this Fütyülős Barack in the Tequila Zombie. As you might be able to guess from all those accents, it’s Hungarian. This particular type of brandy is known as Pálinka, and Wikipedia tells me it’s a protected product that can only be made in Hungary or a few bits of Austria. It’s not the only morsel of Hungary in Ratty’s safe-house—the Szekszárdi Vörös (wine) and tarhonya (some kind of pasta) also hail from the Magyar lands. This “sketchy culinary history” does indeed seem a bit sketchy—what’s Ratty’s hideaway doing full of Hungarian food while Yashmeen fears pursuit by Hungarians?

I’ll say one thing—I can see how the apricot brandy got left in the back of a cupboard. Authentic or not, I’m finding it a bit rough. The apricots come through pleasantly enough, but the alcohol burn is too harsh for me to really enjoy this straight. I’ll find some more cocktails to put it in.

Merry Christmas! (Fruitcake soaked in brandy)

Pynchon Christmas cake

Merry Christmas all! The day’s over here in Australia; probably just beginning for Tommy Pynchon himself. Among my celebrations, I’ve squeezed in a fruit cake soaked in brandy, as recommended by Mason in Mason & Dixon. A nice chunk of Christmas does appear in M&D, but the fruit cake doesn’t actually herald from any of the most Christmassy scenes. The troupe are snowed in, so it’s wintery at least. They’re talking about Dixon’s relationship with “someone in the kitchen” and the effect it’s had on the “size and curvature” of his stomach. Mason cheerily teases Dixon about the products of her kitchen:

“—the Pies,” Mason is joyous to enumerate, “the Tarts, the, the Jam-stuff’d Dough-nuts, the lengthy Menu of French Crèmes and Mousses, the Fruit-Cakes soak’d in Brandy be it Feast-day or no,—”

“Stop . . . ?” cries Dixon, “tha’re making me hungry.”

Fruitcake brandy PynchonPynchon Christmas brandy cake

It is sadly a rare opinion that fruit cake is a wonderful thing whether it’s a feast day or not. I love the stuff. This particular one was great too, a fancy supermarket Christmas cake that I topped up with extra brandy. And now eating has worn me out and I must sleep. Happy Christmas!

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.

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.

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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.