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.

Suntory Scotch

Hibiki Pynchon VinelandTom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet turned one year old on Wednesday. We started out drinking Chivas Regal with Winsome in V. A year later, it’s a very happy birthday sipping Suntory Hibiki 12 year old. Very happy.

My whisky knowledge has progressed not at all in the past year. My tasting notes for this might look something like:

The nose: whisky magic

The palate: delicious whiskyness.

The finish: more of this whisky please.

But even if I don’t feel qualified distinguishing the ripe orange scents from the marmalade overtones, I’m confident telling you that this stuff is great.

It comes to the Liquor Cabinet courtesy of Vineland. After Takeshi gets Vibrating Palmed by DL, he makes “an emergency appointment with one of the staff croakers at Wawazume Life and Non-Life.” The doctor is concerned, and Takeshi tells him about DL. From page 156–57:

He told the doctor about their rendezvous in the Haro no Depaato while he ran Takeshi through an abbreviated physical, grunting darkly at everything he seemed to find. Nothing really showed up, though, till the urine scan. Doc Oruni pulled a bottle of Suntory Scotch out of a small refrigerator, found two paper cups, poured them 90% full, put his feet up on the desk, and dolefully surrendered to mystery. “There’s no cancer, no cystitis, no stones. Proteins, ketones, all that — it’s normal! But something very weird is happening to your bladder!

Suntory Scotch Pynchon VinelandOminous indeed. And jarring now having tasted and loved a Suntory scotch to see it nestled in that paragraph surrounded by urine. Later, Takeshi leaves the doctor’s office reeling under the influence of the Suntory and the other chemicals he’d obtained howling “My own sleaziness — has done me in!”

About that word scotch up above. It seems an odd choice here, because, of course, Suntory’s not Scottish, it’s Japanese. It’s not un-scotch-like though, and Pynchon doesn’t seem to be the only person to have referred to it as Suntory Scotch. Japanese distilling did begin, says Wikipedia, as a “conscious effort to recreate the style of Scottish whisky.” Which I’d say makes it fit in nicely in Vineland—weirdly dovetailing Japanese and Western culture.

Ah and a little postscript: as if the Hibiki was not enough of a celebration, we had a cake too. Happy birthday Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet!

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Singapore Sling

Inherent Vice Singapore Sling We Australian Pynchonites have been waiting patiently and less patiently for Inherent Vice to reach our shores. It did finally appear in Melbourne in a moonlight preview last week, but I was already seeing (the excellent) Gareth Liddiard that night. So I’m still waiting. BUT the movie comes out on Thursday and I have a ticket in hand! So not long now. 

In celebratory anticipation, I had a Singapore Sling last night at Cookie. Of course the waiter tried to give it to Drunk Pynchonette, but pretty quickly she got her beer and I got my fruity cocktail. And a tasty fruity cocktail it was. Not too sweet, smooth citrus and cherry and gin. Here’s Cookie’s description of it:

This once classic cocktail was (like many things) rick rolled by the 1980s, but never fear, we’re bringing it back to its original glory. Gin, Cherry Herring, with dashes of Curacao, Benedictine, Grenadine, and Bitters shaken together with pineapple and lime juice.

Those poor 1980s. Not only were they a decade without any new Pynchon books, but apparently the cocktails went bad too. Inherent Vice, luckily, is set in happier times. The Singapore Sling shows up when Doc’s with Lourdes and Motella and their dates Joachim and Cookie at Club Asiatique in San Pedro. It’s a dramatic place (p. 81):

Waitresses in black silk cheongsams printed with red tropical blossoms glided around on heels, bearing tall narrow drinks decorated with real orchids and mango slices and straws of vivid aqua plastic moulded to look like bamboo.

Singapore Sling Pynchon(My Singapore Sling was tall and narrow, but the resemblance ended there.) No one actually drinks a Singapore Sling in IV–rather, Motella advises Lourdes (I think? A little uncertain about who she’s talking to) that she’d “better not be negotiating no Singapore Slings over there. None of that shit,” (p. 83). Which seems a bit harsh.

Singapore Slings also show up in Vineland, although again undrunk. Someone called Minoru really wants one, but the bar he and Takeshi end up at has none of them (a menu that “made up in exorbitance for what it lacked in variety,” p.145) and they drink beer instead.

One week until the movie!

Inexpensive (airborne) vodka

Of all the bars in Pynchon, Kahuna Airlines’ airborne tiki bar must be one of the most colourful:

Each 747 in the Kahuna Airlines fleet had been gutted and refitted as a huge Hawaiian restaurant and bar, full of hanging island vegetation, nightclub chairs and tables instead of airplane seats, even a miniature waterfall.

Zoyd gets a job with the Kahuna Airlines playing “lounge synthesiser” on flights across the Pacific Ocean. There’re hula dancers and flame eaters, plastic tikis and shrubbery, oversize paper-parasoled drinks. Infuriatingly though, no specific drink references–even when the plane is boarded by mysterious alien pirates, prompting a free-drinks-for-all bonanza. Here’s the closest it gets:

The alcohol flowed torrentially, and soon it was necessary to switch over to a reserve tank of inexpensive vodka, located in the wing. Some passengers fell unconscious, some glazed out, others kicked off their shoes and partied, notwithstanding the grim shielded troopers working slowly, methodically among them.

As much as it pains me, I must accept that the airborne Tiki bar produces nothing more interesting for me to drink than inexpensive vodka. And I can’t even drink it out of the wing of an aeroplane.

Vineland vodkaHowever! I recently found myself on a flight across the Pacific, and while it wasn’t Kahuna Airlines, it was Fiji Air, which is pretty close in spirit, right? The business class cabin I was mysteriously upgraded into didn’t closely resemble a tiki bar, but the air hosts were wearing a Pacific Island print, and I had just had Wahoo for dinner, so I figured I was in the ballpark. The sad probability is that Fiji Air was the closest I will ever come to an airborne Tiki bar. So let’s have this inexpensive vodka.

The menu (which the friendly/obsequious Pacific-clad host brought around before takeoff) listed the vodka as Absolute with an e. Unless there’s an affordable Fijian knockoff by that name, I’m going to assume it was Absolut. I ordered a vodka lemonade. It showed up after takeoff not looking too inexpensive at all with its business class glass and ice and slice of lime. I admit that this deviates perhaps from the spirit of Kahuna’s wing-stored vodka, but hey, it was free man, how much more inexpensive does it come?

I enjoyed the thing a great deal too. Seemed at the time so beautifully mixed as to not be mixed at all, but rather some new spirit entirely, magically smooth. Sweet, a quininey note, lime of course, but something else too… Or something of just being impossible to separate into parts, into tasting notes. Goes down easier than the Chivas and dry I’d mixed myself in the business class lounge pre-flight. Goes down easier thanks to that too, I suppose. And it sure is nice to have something to suck on gazing down at the gridded city lights, at the ocean. My inexpensive vodka wasn’t the party Zoyd’s was, but it sure was nice.

Chivas Regal

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We’re in the second section of Chapter five (in which Stencil goes west with an alligator) of V., and Winsome’s sitting on his “grotesque” espresso machine smoking something referred to as “string.”

 The string was from Bloomingdale’s, fine quality: procured by Charisma several months before on one of his sporadic work binges; he’d been a shipping clerk that time. Winsome made a mental note to see the pusher from Lord and Taylor’s, a frail girl who hoped someday to sell pocketbooks in the accessories department. The stuff was highly valued by string smokers, on the same level as Chivas Regal scotch or black Panamanian marijuana.

String smokers? Assuming Winsome’s not inhaling the fumes from a literal length of parcel string, what’s this actually about? I don’t smoke much of anything myself; maybe it’s common parlance among some in-crowd. Google mainly throws up Pynchon though, along with a bit of To Kill a Mockingbird, where “summer was Dilly by the fishpool smoking string.” The impulse is to link string to hemp rope and conclude he’s smoking pot, but from Bloomingdale’s? Likely not, even if this is 1956. The definitive record of the English language, despite listing umpteen noun definitions for string mentions nothing smoking related. Seems like it’s probably tobacco though, or a type of tobacco. (Edit: A friend of mine suggests that it might refer to ribbon cut tobacco, which I’m told is cut in really long strings. Thanks facebook.)

Anyway, we’re not here for the string, we’re here for the Chivas Regal its smokers value so highly.

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Yes, I had just about finished the whole bottle before I got around to writing this. Perhaps that’s the best review.

The idea here, by the way, is that I’m drinking everything mentioned however peripherally in every Pynchon book and jabbering a bit about what it’s like. So what is Chivas Regal like? I’m tempted to say that a screaming comes across the tongue. That it has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now. (And actually, what do I compare a whiskey to? Other whiskey presumably–it has happened before that I’ve drunk the stuff. But only cheap stuff, and mainly quickly and in large quantities. I’m maybe not too well qualified to pass judgement on Chivas Regal.)

But no screaming comes. It’s just beautifully smooth and syrupy. Tastes warm and a bit spicy. A little banana-ey? Smells terrific too. I’m willing to endorse the taste of the string smokers. No comment on the black Panamanian marijuana, but Winsome and co seem to know where it’s at.

The passage of  V. mentioning Chivas Regal is from p.124 of my edition. I drank the standard 12yo on ice. 

Update: Chivas Regal also gets a mention in Vineland, where DL steals “a bottle of PX Chivas Regal for the sensei.” PX, as far as I can tell refers to the military shopping centre she steals it from. That’s page 125.