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!

Pynchon Cake  DSC_1569