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.

Tequila Zombie

Tequila Zombie Inherent Vice PynchonI’m maybe 50% of my way through a tequila zombie as I begin this post, and I must confess to feeling a little woozy. These past months of drinking along with Tyrone and Maxine and Jeremiah and Katje and Benny should have warmed up my liver a bit, but this one does ratchet the alcohol up a good few notches. Which is the main point with zombies. The original one was supposedly concocted to help a businessman through a hangover—not so much hair of the dog as just swallowing the mutt whole. Doc and his (maritime) lawyer Sauncho order them in Inherent Vice, along with some disturbing sounding food (p. 91-92):

“I’m Chlorinda, what’ll it be,” A waitress in a combination Nehru jacket and Hawaiian-print shirt, just long enough to qualify as a minidress, and with a set of vibes that didn’t help sharpen anyone’s appetite.

“Ordinarily I’d go for the Admiral Luau,” Sauncho more diffident than Doc expected, “but today I guess I’ll just have the house anchovy loaf to start and, um, the devil-ray filet, can I get that deep-fried in beer batter?”

“Your stomach isn’t it. How about you l’il buddy?”

“Mmm!” Doc scanning the menu. “All this good eatin’!” while Sauncho kicked him under the table.

“If my husband dared to eat any of this shit, I’d throw him out on his ass and drop all his Iron Butterfly records out the window after him.”

“Trick question,” said Doc hastily. “The, uh, jellyfish teriyaki croquetters I guess? and the Eel Trovatore?”

“And to drink, gentlemen. You’ll want to be good and fucked up by the time this arrives. I’d recommend Tequila Zombies, they work pretty quick.” She walked away scowling.

Forgive any weird spelling errors—they do work pretty quick. Oh and is anyone game to take on Tom Pynchon’s Kitchen? I’m reviving the Quimporto, someone else’s gotta handle the Eel Travatore.

We should also note that Doc and Sauncho are drinking their zombies at lunchtime. Day drinking is delightful, but I’m feeling weird enough trying to get through this thing at 2AM, let along having it pre-5pm. It oughta be reserved for late nights in loud clubs in tropical party towns. But then again, Doc doesn’t have much binding him to a regular employment/daylight based timetable. Dude can drink what he wants.

The tequila zombie is not a common drink. A typical zombie is three or four different types of rum, apricot brandy, vodka, and juice of some tropical kind (although recipes seem to vary widely). If you google tequila zombie, you mostly get a game in which you blast shotguns at sombreroed zombies. But you can also find QuirkBooks getting in ahead of me in the Pynchonian alcohol game, providing not just a tequila zombie recipe but one based on their love of Inherent Vice. I basically followed their recipe here, except I swapped out orange juice for pineapple. That gave me:

  • 3 oz tequila
  • 1.5 oz apricot brandy
  • 1.5 oz spiced rum
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 3 oz grapefruit juice
  • 3 oz pineapple juice

And it makes a hefty drink. I gave Drunk Pychonette one, and despite my warnings her first sip still brought a sharp “Holy shit!” Maybe some kind of expert mixology could mask the alcohol better. I’m not sure how. It’s good though! Just tastes like very serious party.

Pynchon Tequila ZombieDoc and Sauncho’s scene with the zombies makes it into the movie, which I finally at last after interminable waiting saw and enjoyed last night. It felt nicely Pynchoney, good and weird and funny with the right mix of sadness and optimism at the base. (I copied my zombie garnish from the movie zombie, so thank you to whatever set dresser was responsible for that.) I look forward to seeing it again and I hope I’m not hungover tomorrow.

Brandy

Seeing as our friend Tyrone Slothrop’s Pilsner Urquell was such a good idea, we’d better see what else he can recommend us. Or actually–he gets through some classy girlfriends, some of them must have pretty good taste. Let’s try Katje. Mysterious Katje. Near the start of the second part of Gravity’s Rainbow (“Un Perm’ au Casino Hermann Goering”), after a convenient seaside octopus fight, Slothrop winds up (as They intended) in her hotel room (“Welcome Mister Slothrop Welcome To Our Structure We Hope You Will Enjoy Your Visit Here”). Enter the brandy: “…inside, a single scented candle burns, and the suite is washed in moonlight. She pours brandy in old flint snifters, and as he reaches, their fingers touch.” Wonder where that’s leading…

I unfortunately have no old flint snifters, or actually any snifters at all. Gotta invest in some Pynchonian stemware one of these days. So my brandy’s in a big old wine glass. The brandy itself, I suspect, may also fall short of the quality of Katje’s product. She does, after all, have Their backing. Mine was the cheapest in the shop.

Bardinet Pynchon

But let’s assume brandy’s brandy. What’s it like? The smell at first was way more bourboney than I’d expected. But if one gets a little closer and breathes a little deeper, raisins come to the fore. Something a bit herbal too. The taste is relatively delicate–I’m getting raisins and chocolate–then there’s quite a burn at the finish. Not much spice, a little sweetness. And, surprise surprise, that sweetness just gets nicer the more of it you have. I must add though, my Katje stand-in (don’t read too much into that) was not a fan; too much alcohol burn for too little flavour in her books.

Honestly, I’m glad I’m not in Slothrop’s position here. If I’d arrived a brandy virgin at a beautiful woman’s Riviera suite and she’d poured me a glass of the stuff, I’d have probably taken a gulp expecting something wine-like and coughed it up all over her. Not “suave, romantic Slothrop.” Of course, our AWOL adventurer is likely no brandy virgin. He’s pretty on top of things here, recognising that the hotel room is “mostly props,” singing a little, and then of course he’s on top of Katje…

Afterwards, Slothrop’s asleep and snoring “like a rocket whose valves, under remote control, open and close at prearranged moments,” snores that “have been known to rattle storm windows.” Katje’s having none of it. She attacks him with a pillow, prompting a pillow fight that escalates until she’s brandishing a Seltzer bottle.

Slothrop keeps trying to grab the bottle. Slippery girl squirms away, gets behind a chair. Slothrop takes the brandy decanter off of the sideboard, unstoppers it, and flings a clear, amber, pseudopodded glob across the room twice in out of moonlight to splash around her neck, between her black-tipped breasts, down her flanks. “Bastard,” hitting him with the Seltzer again.

Too good. But am I neglecting my duty if I don’t test brandy’s use as a weapon? No one around seems too keen to have it thrown at them, even if it is in gorgeous amber pseudopodded globs.

These brandy episodes are from pages 195 and 197 of my edition. The brandy I drank was the Bardinet VSOP.