Veuve Clicquot Brut

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Season two of the Pynchon in Public podcast‘s trek through Gravity’s Rainbow is a wrap! Watch your iTunes feeds. I popped some Champagne on the air this morning in celebration.

You may notice the Champagne is pictured above in a beer mug. In this, as in the choice of the specific Champagne house, I follow the good example of Lt Tyrone Slothrop. He gets Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck and a casino-full of possible conspirators sloshed on the stuff during a drinking game of grand proportions. Page 252:

‘Garçon.’ Drinks here are always on the house for Slothrop — They are springing for it, he imagines. ‘Some of that champagne! Wantcha to just keep it coming, and any time we run out, go get more, comprendez?’ Any number of slack-jawed subalterns, hearing the magic word, drift over and take seats while Slothrop explains the rules.

“I’m not sure –” Dodson-Truck begins.

“Baloney. Come on, do you good to get outa that chess rut.”

“Right, right,” agree the others.

Dodson-Truck stays in his seat, a bit tense.

“Bigger glasses,” Slothrop hollers at the waiter. “How about those beer mugs over there! Yeah! They’d be just fine.” The waiter unblasts a Jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot Brut, and fills everybody up.

DSC_5837 (1).jpgMany bottles later, the waiters switch to sweet Taittinger, among other cheaper options, corks growing “straighter, less mushroomy” once everyone’s too far gone to care. I’m in no hurry to move on. It’s mid afternoon here now, and I’ve been idly sipping on Veuve Clicquot since sometime this morning. (Just one beer mug’s worth–I’m not knocking them back like the patrons of the Casino Hermann Goering). It’s fresh and zippy and very enjoyable. Just like the Pynchon in Public podcast. Sort of. The podcast’s got more shit and death than the Champagne. But otherwise. Just like it.

The drunken party ends up opening a chink in the armour of Their machine for Slothrop, with Dodson-Truck confessing his part in the plot and his knowledge of Slothrop’s conditioning. It sets rolling the boulder that gets our Tyrone the hell outta the Riviera, out of the sights of the White Visitation and co, and off into his Rocket-hunt through Europe. Drinking games are serious business, folks.

Gin Marshmallows

I hope everyone is digging the new season of the Pynchon in Public podcast. After three seasons pissing around with minor works, they’ve finally bit the bullet (or, I suppose, the rocket) and taken on the big one: Gravity’s Rainbow. (I kid—they’ve been doing great and noble work from the beginning. If you haven’t heard the earlier seasons, treasures await you here).

DSC_5442The current season of the podcast is covering the first part of Gravity’s Rainbow. In celebration, here’s a treat from one of that section’s most beloved scenes: Mrs Quoad’s gin marshmallow from the Disgusting English Candy Drill. I’ve been looking forward to this.

DSC_5327Slothrop one day around page 114 runs into Darlene, “an adorable tomato in a nurse uniform,” whose name he can sort of remember. They head back to her flat, where they find her elderly landlord/housemate Mrs Quoad sitting in the “grainy shadows” among “grease-hazy jars of herbs, candies, spices” listening to Primo Scala’s Accordion Band on the wireless. And Mrs Quoad does swiftly and with gusto commence stuffing those candies down Slothrop’s throat. He ingests a dizzying array of variously repulsive English confections, struggling more and more as the ordeal continues. The English women aren’t impressed (p.118):

“Show a little backbone,” advises Mrs. Quoad.

“Yes,” Darlene through tongue-softened sheets of caramel, “don’t you know there’s a war on? Here now love, open your mouth.”

Through the tears he can’t see it too well, but he can hear Mrs. Quoad across the table going “Yum, yum, yum,” and Darlene giggling. It is enormous and soft, like a marshmallow, but somehow—unless something is now going seriously wrong with his brain—it tastes like: gin. “Wha’s ‘is,” he inquires thickly.

“A gin marshmallow,” sez Mrs. Quoad.

“Awww…”

DSC_5358.jpgIs a gin marshmallow really such an abomination? It has to be the most palatable item in Mrs Quoad’s catalogue of sugary horrors. I’m eating one as I type this now, and I can attest to their being a bit weird. But not entirely undelicious. They’re pleasingly squishy and sweet, pervaded by a medicinal gin haze that would definitely bewilder anyone expecting a regular marshmallow. But if you know what you’re getting into, it kind of works.

Here’s the recipe I cobbled together, mostly following Cooked, but simplified a little and with extra gin all through:

Gin Marshmallows
Dissolve 460 g of caster sugar and 1 tbs of glucose syrup in 170 mL water and 15 mL of gin. Bring to the boil and simmer, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 127°C.

Meanwhile, sprinkle 2 tbs of gelatine powder over 170 mL cold water and 15 mL gin. Heat in the microwave for 30–45 seconds on High (100%), or until the gelatine has dissolved and the liquid is clear.

When the sugar syrup reaches 115°C, whisk three egg whites until frothy. Add 55 g sugar and whisk until thick and glossy.

When the sugar syrup reaches 127°C, turn off the heat. When the bubbles subside, add the dissolved gelatine.

Slowly pour the hot syrup mixture into the egg whites while beating. Continue beating for a small eternity, until the mixture is very thick and holds its shape.

Add a shot of gin and teaspoon of lemon zest, and whisk some more.

Scrape the mixture into a tin and give it a few hours to set.

Pynchon In Public Day is not so far away (May 8)–perhaps you can whip up a batch of your own to celebrate. Or go one step further and try your hand at Mrs Quoad’s “Mayonnaise Marmalade Suprises.” Do let me know how they are.

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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

Absinthe with water

From Hemingway’s Papa Doble, on to another drink with a great literary/artistic pedigree: absinthe. We’re all familiar with its green fairy aura of inspired madness and creative self-annihilation. The stuff’s been put away by Baudelaire, Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Modigliani, etc etc etc. Even more impressively, it gets mentioned in both V. and Gravity’s Rainbow. In V., a not exactly gallant sounding bloke called Ferrante is described as “a drinker of absinthe and destroyer of virginity,” and Signor Mantissa remembers a “blond seamstress in Lyons” who “would drink absinthe at night and torture herself for it in the afternoons.” 

Absinthe Pynchon Gravity's Rainbow

Well and then in GR absinthe gets some even better peripheral press, aboard the fun-filled Anubis

Slothrop looks around and finds Miklos Thanatz, full beard, eyebrows feathering out like trailing edges of hawks’ wings, drinking absinthe out of a souvenir stein on which, in colors made ghastly by the carnivals lights on deck, bony and giggling Death is about the surprise the two lovers in bed. 

And what a Gravity’s Rainbow sentence is that. Crazy looking dude with a whole stein of absinthe, reflecting the wider scene in the lights of the boat while also telling a (highly relevant) inset narrative of Death gleefully interrupting love. Plus then one stein of 70% alcohol isn’t enough:

Thanatz is holding out his stein for a refill. The waiter, deadpan, dribbles water down a spoon to turn the absinthe milky green while Thanatz caresses his buttocks, then moves away.

I went hunting for some milky green of my own at Canvas in Brisbane (highly recommended, if not quite such a temple of hedonism as the Anubis). They had an absinthe/pastis tasting flight on offer (pastis being an anise liqueur with a similar flavour to absinthe). Thanks to another generous benefactor, I sampled a bit (not quite a stein-full) of each of:

  • Ricard Pastis 45%
  • Henri Bardonuin Pastis 45%
  • Koruna Bohemian Absinth 73%
  • Mansinthe 66.6%

This is admittedly a bit of a weird list for an “absinthe” tasting, not actually including any French absinthe. The pastis are French but wormwoodless. The Koruna is Czech–hence the lack of an “e” on “absinth.” Only the Mansinthe is actually absinthe with an “e”, and it’s made by Marilyn Manson. Which explains the inauspicious 66.6% alcohol concentration. Manson’s stuff does seem to be pretty legit though, distilled from the proper herbs in Switzerland with no added sugar. Anyway, those other three are close enough to count too. The waiter warned me that the last two contained wormwood, but “not the crazy cut-your-ear-off van Gogh kind.”

Gravity's Rainbow Absinthe Pynchon

All four of them were very aniseedy, of course. The Ricard Pastis tasted like sweet liquoriche. All the flavours seemed to be arranged really differently in your mouth compared to other spirits I’m more used to. Watery on the front, then getting all syrupy and rich. The Henri Boudin was less sweet, with stronger herbal notes. The Bohemian absinth really upped the ante, in taste as well as alcohol—a sharp rich spike of peppermint up front, plenty of burn filling it out. Complex and kind of invigorating. The Mansinthe was a bit of a mellower take on the same, with some fruity nutty notes too I thought. But less interesting than the Koruna. 

That’s all before the water. After dripping some water from a pretty little jug into each, their flavours changed pretty dramatically. Most acquired smokier notes; the Czech one even had a dark chocolate thing going on. Mansinthe seemed to get more vegetabley. And of course, just as Pynchon writes, their appearance changes too. Each drop of water sends a little smoky mist spiralling through the liquid, and they do turn totally milky with enough water. I forgot to take a photo–which forgetfulness is by the way about the strongest absinthe symptom I experienced. No hallucinations here. 

That milky mist shows up again late in GR, in the Counterforce, when Roger Mexico (one of my favourite GR characters) makes his glorious statistician’s reappearance, raging into Mossmoon’s office trying to rescue Slothrop from Their machine:  

He’s looking into a room of incandescent lemon-lime subdued drastically, almost to the milky point of absinthe-and-water, a room warmer than this tableful of faces really deserves, but perhaps it’s Roger’s entrance that deepens the color a bit now as he runs and jumps up on the polished table, over the polished head of a director of a steel company, skidding 20 feet down the waxed surface to confront the man at the end, who sits with a debonair (well, snotty) smile on his face. “Mossmoon, I’m on to you.” 

Then he relieves himself, of both urine and rage, all over everything. A good note to end on. 

Canadian Ale

GRAVITY'S RAINBOWThe Kenosha Kid episode is something of an early milestone in Gravity’s Rainbow, I’d say. Sixtyish pages in, playful and bizzare, it might well mark the dividing fork at which a new Pynchon reader either hurls the book at the wall or really starts to settle in for a good time. Slothrop’s doped up on sodium amytal, dreaming variations on the phrase “you never did the Kenosha Kid.” They start brief, e.g.: “Superior (incredulously): You? Never! Did the Kenosha Kid think for one instant that you…?” and then suddenly Slothrop’s upstairs in Boston’s Roseland Ballroom watching his harmonica disappear down a toilet’s maw. If you’ve ever seen Trainspotting, you’ll be familiar with Danny Boyle’s ripoff of what happens next: he chases that Harmonica right down the toilet and finds a murky world submerged below:

The light down here is dark gray and rather faint. For some time he has been aware of shit, elaborately crusted along the sides of this ceramic (or by now, iron) tunnel he’s in; shit nothing can flush away, mixed with hard-water minerals into a deliberate brown barnacling of his route, patterns thick with meaning… icky and sticky, cryptic and glyptic…” 

Pynchon Canadian Ale…which whole episode eventually and unexpectedly circles all the way back to “you never did the Kenosha Kid.” Anyway, while he’s down in the gunge, Slothrop “finds he can identify certain traces of shit as belonging definitely to this or that Harvard fellow of his acquaintances.” Useful talent to have. One “Dumpster Villard” features prominently among these acquaintances. 

A-and here’s Dumpster Villard , he was constipated that night, wasn’t he–it’s black shit mean as resin that will someday clarify forever to dark amber. In its blunt, reluctant touches along the wall … he can, uncannily shit-sensitized now, read old agonies inside poor Dumpster, who’d tried suicide last semester: the differential equations that would not weave for him into any elegance, the mother with the low-slung hat and silk knees leaning across Slothrop’s table in Sidney’s Great Yellow Grille to finish for him his bottle of Canadian Ale, the Radcliffe girls who evaded him…

The list goes on. All the cumulative sufferings of Dumpster’s life (and being named thus must factor in there somewhere too) are recorded there for shit-sensitised Slothrop to read. Including that episode with the Canadian Ale! 

St Ambroise PynchonI realise none of this has made the loveliest introduction for a drink. But nevertheless, allow me to present my Canadian ale selection: the St. Ambroise Pale Ale. It’s from a brewery in Montreal. I’ve gotta say, I was pretty excited to have a chance to drink some crafty beer for this blog. But this one isn’t my favourite. It’s very bitter, but without all that much hop aroma. Much more like a British style Pale Ale than the American I was expecting (and hoping for). Actually tastes weirdly like Pilsner Urquell. So much so that I would have bet they’d used Saaz hops. But no, it’s Cascade, Williamette, Golding, and Hallertau. Who knows. It seems to be a pretty well-liked beer. Maybe it didn’t survive the trip across the world so well. If I were Slothrop, I might leave this one for Dumpster’s mother too. 

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. 

Pilsner Urquell

Now here’s a topic close to my heart: getting casually drunk on Pilsner Urquell. An experience I have shared with Lt. Tyrone Slothrop!

DSC_8356Maybe two thirds of the way through Gravity’s Rainbow, Slothrop’s holed up on an embassy-suggested holiday in a German spa town called, very Pynchonianly, Bad Karma. The place “had a reputation that summer for its mud, hot and greasy mud with traces of radium, jet black, softly bubbling.”

Wise man that he is, Slothrop spends his days in Bad Karma “drinking Pilsener Urquelle in the cafe by the lake in the Pavilion Park. He was a stranger, half the time drunk, silly beer-drunk, and he hardly spoke their language.”

I can vouch from personal experience for the loveliness of days spend drinking Pilsner in cafes. I did it in Prague for four or five months a few years ago (which explains the difference between my spelling and Pynchon’s–Pilsner’s the Czech, Pilsener the German) and I wouldn’t say I was half the time drunk, but I was all the time drinking Pilsner. I didn’t realise I was reenacting a Slothrop moment, though I had read Gravity’s Rainbow. I even went to the brewery in Plzeň where the stuff is made, had a photo in front of those gates on the bottle, sampled some unfiltered product from a barrel. So it fills me with delight now to know that Slothrop was a Pilsner drinker!

This sparkling Czech gold also seems like the ideal drink for the town of Bad Karma. The beer’s crisp acid tang would make the ideal antidote to all that hot greasy mud. The perfect softly bubbling amber fluid to replace softly bubbling mud. Bad Karma certainly has a big advantage for Pilsner drinking over where I am now. Fictional or not, it’s a lot closer to the source than me, and Pilsner tends to go a big meh when you have to ship it around the world. This one I’m sampling is nice, but the flavoured just gets a bit dulled. So I envy Slothrop his European spa town cafe beers.

Anyway, na zdravie!