Absinthe Frappé

DSC_6761.jpgThis here is the fiftieth drink to join our digital cabinet of liquors! And a mighty fine addition it is too. If I were asked elect an emblematic spirit for each Pynchon book, some choices would be easy. White corn whiskey would represent Mason & Dixon. Lot 49 might be kirsch. And Against the Day would be absinthe.

The denizens of AtD take their absinthe in diverse preparations over the course of the book’s pages—soaked into cigarettes, louched with Champagne, cocktailed with rum and brandy. On this occasion, we find it in a frappé. Reef has wound up gallivanting around with Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin and her crew under the assumed identify of Thrapston Cheesely III, but that whole arrangement’s about to go south. Page 368:

They finally parted company in New Orleans after a confused and repetitive headache of a night that began at the establishment of Monsieur Peychaud, where the Sazeracs, though said to’ve been invented there, were not a patch, it seemed to Reef, on those available at Bob Stockton’s bar in Denver, though those Absinthe Frappés were another matter.

dsc_6755Pynchon doesn’t quite get his Sazerac history right here. According to the (admittedly somewhat mythologising) Sazerac Rye website, Monsieur Peychaud was indeed the inventor of the bitters that go in a Sazerac, but this was in the 1830s/40s,  before Reef was born, and Peychaud didn’t have a bar—he was an apothecary serving it for friends after hours in his pharmacy. The Sazerac became established more widely primarily thanks to the Sazerac Coffee House, and that’s likely where Reef gets his sub-par version. Anyway, let’s save the Sazerac for another time. Reef much preferred the frappé, and I’m happy to take his recommendation.

Here be the contents of my Absinthe Frappé, mostly following this recipe:

  • 1.5 shots of Pernod Absinthe
  • 1.5 shots of soda water
  • However much sugar seems necessary
  • A few mint leaves
  • A bunch of ice

All blended up together and garnished with some more mint. They taste summery and sophisticated, bright and refreshing. They look cool. Good tip all round from Reef.

Here’s to the next fifty drinks! Thanks for joining me!

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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.

Gallo wine with ice

Gallo wine Pynchon V.

After a couple of moody European spirits (oude jenever and absinthe), it seems about time we have something more frivolous. This one definitely fits that bill. It’s pink and light and sweet and totally without bite.

At the start of Chapter Six of V., Profane’s just finished his first day (or actually, night) of alligator hunting in the sewers of New York. Angel and Geronimo and he return to street level at about 5 a.m., and the two of them shove him into a too-small suit to go out celebrating. Fina has sick leave coming up, so she tags along too, and Angel and Geronimo call up Dolores and Pilar, two girls they know.

The six of them started at an after-hours club up near 125th Street, drinking Gallo wine with ice in it. A small group, vibes and rhythm, played listlessly in one corner. These musicians had been to school with Angel, Fina and Geronimo. During the breaks they came over and sat at the table. They were drunk and threw pieces of ice at each other. Everybody talked in Spanish and Profane responded in what Italo-American he’d heard around the house as a kid. There was about 10 per cent communication but nobody cared: Profane was only guest of honor.

EGallo wine pynchon ice cubesarly morning in an after-hours jazz club isn’t the first environment I’d choose for cheap sweet wine with ice. I was thinking more like summer afternoon by the pool. But Pynchon is a wise man, and I think I could actually drink this very happily at a sleepless 6 a.m. (Am I right in assuming jazz club, by the way? I’ve never come across ‘vibes and rhythm’ music before, but I’m imagining this might be an example of the form?) It just goes down so easy.

Gallo are apparently the largest family-owned wine producer in the US, but they don’t export much to Australia. This bottle of White Zinfandel rosé was the only thing of theirs I could find here. I guess we’re already pretty well equipped with cheap drinkable wines. The bottle says it tastes like cherry and watermelon with hints of raspberry; I get plenty of the latter two, no cherry. It’d benefit in my books from a bit of body or bite, but as it is it’s totally pleasant. I’ll recommend it to my mum, and maybe even reach for it again myself should I need something one 5 a.m.

Rolling Rock

Anheuser-Busch brew houseA week or so ago, I had the unexpectedly excellent experience of visiting the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St Louis. The brewery complex was opened in 1852, and it has some terrific architecture to show for its long history, even if the beer itself is perhaps less exceptional.

I was of course curious as to what Pynchonian alcoholic connections I could make DSC_9185at Annheuser-Busch. The “case of warm Bud Light” from Vineland would have been the obvious option, but you’ll forgive me for just not having been quite in the mood. I did discover, however, that Ann-Bu are also responsible for brewing Rolling Rock (despite Rolling Rock’s website claiming they’ve been “celebrating independent spirits since 1939.”), which makes an appearance in Bleeding Edge.

In the book, Maxine has popped back into her apartment around lunch-time after some back-to-school shopping when her friend Driscoll shows up with a Rachel haircut and an invitation to the Geeks’ Cotillion ball. Maxine’s run out of Zima, but she finds them beer: “Rolling Rock, two bottles Horst has somehow overlooked, way in the back of the fridge.”

According to Wikipedia, they don’t actually brew Rolling Rock in St Louis. But they do stock Rolling Rock merchandise.

Rolling rock shirt

So yes, I bought the glasses, I bought the T-shirt. And then today (thanks to a generous benefactor), got around to sampling the beer. It’s a very pleasant lager, reminiscent of a smoother Budweiser. Not much flavour (I can see how Horst could find them easily forgotten), but definitely a workable option for a summer’s afternoon.

Rolling rock bottle

Boilermaker

20140613_211934Whiskey and Alement hides its vast whisky stores and careful beer selection behind a curtained door in a dead pocket of the Melbourne CBD. It’s a Pynchonesque place, in its way. Hardly lit, full of insiders to its secret and outsiders to the surrounding world. Stocked with mysteriously titled–or just numbered–bottles (“Sing along with Julie Andrews”, “Glamping in a yurt”) from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, an organisation that I just get an odd whiff of W.A.S.T.E. about. A perfect room for conspiracy hatching. The perfect place for me to emulate V.’s Roony drinking boilermakers.

Except I’m not actually emulating all that well–Roony’s sitting “at the bar of a neighborhood tavern on Second Avenue,” where “in the corner an Irishman and a Hungarian were yelling at each other over the bowling game.” Sounds like a perhaps less conspiratorial drinking establishment than Whisky and Alement. Anyway, he’s drinking boilermakers, to Rachel’s disapproval:

He ordered another boilermaker.

“Roony, you drink too much,” she said. “I worry about you.”

“Nag, nag, nag.” He smiled.

Despite a less naggy partner in bar crawling, I only had one boilermaker. But a great one it was.

20140613_202616 The menu actually had a selection of boilermakers, and the one I chose was titled “Peat & Pine Needles.” The whisky was the Bunnahabhain 8 year old peated. Google informs me that this is an independent bottling by Gordon & Macphail. The beer was Brooklyn Brewery’s East India Pale Ale.

Now, if you’ve read my Chivas Regal post, you know I don’t reallllly know anything about whisky. I can say I enjoyed this one, and thought it tasted plenty interesting, especially on the aftertaste. But did it have underripe bananas on the nose? Melon and apricot flavours? A milk chocolate edge? No idea. It did seem very nicely spicy to me. And then following a sip with a sip of the beer is just so good. My scribbled notes from the bar say something about how it’s like the whisky spiciness settles back into a cool embrace or a comfy couch or something. It’s a really delicious beer too. Unusually smooth for something so hoppy.

I’ll definitely be heading back to Whisky and Alement for more boilermakers. Next time I’ll follow Roony more closely and have a couple.

 

Update: Boilermakers also get a mention in Inherent Vice, where Doc’s maritime lawyer Sauncho sarcastically offers him one to go with his sob story.