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.