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.

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.