Armchair/Shotgun recently sat down to chat with New York author and all around good guy Teddy Wayne. Wayne is the author of the 2010 novel Kapitoil (a delightfully fun read, which we highly recommend), and has been published in a whole bunch of great places including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair…you get the picture.
We did not ask him about his “process,” his “role models,” who his “influences” are, if he likes “Oxford commas,” or if he knows how to “read.” Instead, we asked him about booze.
The Bar: Angel’s Share (East Village, New York City)
The Drinks: (1) Stormy Weather (2) Whip the Mule
Pleasantries are exchanged. Small talk made. Drinks are ordered. The questions begin.***
John M. Cusick (A/S): Visual presentation: What do you think?
Teddy Wayne: It’s presented in a chilled bronze mug that makes you feel a little bit like a Greek king being served either poison or the elixir of the gods. The waiter, of course, presents a lot of decorum here, so it kind of feels like I should be sniffing it, doing something to match up to his presentation. But somehow it also feels like a cup that, like, a tin cup that you get at a summer camp. So I can’t tell if it’s the height of luxury or like a YMCA knock off. Yeah, but it looks good though.
Adam Read-Brown (A/S): We want your first impressions on your first sip, so don’t rush it.
Wayne: So, it’s a “Stormy Weather.” Let me read the ingredient list. It’s “Apple- and cinnamon-infused rye whiskey, fresh lime juice, ginger-flavored wine, ground ginger, and ginger, and it’s served in a cup that has Ginger from Gilligan’s Island on it also.” [Editor’s note: not really] So it is definitely heavy on the ginger. [He takes a sip.] The rye comes through, but the ginger kind of overpowers it, which may be the point, given that ginger tends to be a little more tasty than grain alcohol. Yeah, it tastes a little bit like the liquid equivalent of a ginger chew with alcohol in the center.
JMC: Would you say you have a typical drink that you enjoy? What’s your standard? You go into a new bar, you’re not sure you trust the bartender. What do you order?
Wayne: If it’s not a beer? I think rye and ginger lately, but they are shockingly short in supply. A lot of bars don’t have ginger ale. If it’s a night where I’m drinking to not savor, so to speak, I will stick to vodka drinks ’cause vodka and gin…clear liquids have fewer congeners, and I really can’t handle the hard hangovers anymore like I used to. So, sort of a lot of preparation to think through what will make for the best morning tomorrow.
ARB: Do you draw up a schedule for the night before you go? “8 p.m. I will have…”
Wayne: I’ve been known to pop some Ibuprofen throughout the night in anticipation. I’m a serious planner when it comes to hangover prevention.
JMC: Now that you’ve had a few sips, can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re feeling? Your sensations?
Wayne: OK. Well, there’s a lot of iciness, and obviously it has not dissolved into water yet, but it almost makes it feel like it is a more watery drink than it is. And the ice cubes—’cause it’s such a small…well, it’s a regular size cup, but it feels like it’s a stout little cup, short and stout you might say—and the ice cubes are so large, there’s a sense of the ice overwhelming the structure itself.
Evan Simko-Bednarski (A/S): Would you say it’s a strong drink?
Wayne: Again, there’s so much ginger—there’s like eight variations of ginger in it—I’m tasting that, which I hear is also good for air sickness, or motion sickness. So if I go in a car after this, I’ll be set.
JMC: If you could compare this drink to a book—if that is possible, and take your time—what would you compare it to?
Wayne: This feels like a kind of Hemingway-esque drink… I wanna claim that. Given that it’s sort of my drink, I want to pretend to be as masculine as he is. So let’s just say A Farewell to Arms.
JMC: Good. Alright. That’s correct.
ARB: So you were saying lately you’ve been on drinks similar to this. But if we go back a little bit—to, say, sophomore year of college—what would your drink of choice have been?
Wayne: Other than keg beer at bad parties? Ah, it was…sophomore year to…stretching to not so distantly in the past, often very bottom shelf, the vodka in plastic bottles. Those?
ARB: Not so much a drink so much as a price range?
Wayne: Price range, and also there’s the nights where you’re sort of with a few friends, waiting to go out somewhere. That sort of drink.
ARB: It seems like you’ve finished that liquid there. Before we move on to the next drink, can we get some concluding thoughts?
ESB: Would you order this again?
Wayne: I might not, just because it tastes similar enough to a rye and ginger that I don’t feel like I was getting something special. And it really was so heavy on the ginger, which I like, but I am not such a ginger fan that I will seek it out at any opportunity. But I’m glad I had the experience.
JMC: To tap into your young college-age self, I’m going to suggest the “Whip the Mule.” It’s apple- and clove-infused Polish vodka which is made with bison grass, which, as I was discussing earlier with Adam, I understood that bison grass vodka was illegal in the U.S. This must be the watered-down American version because apparently bison grass is just slightly toxic where they make it in Poland.
ARB: We’re not trying to harm you.
JMC: I’m sure this one is not toxic.
Wayne: I’m sure it’s fine. How do you know about the bison grass?
JMC: I like alcohol. I like to read about it.
ARB: Do you ever drink while you write?
Wayne: I never drink alcohol while writing. Except for texting.
— The second drink arrives —
Wayne: I can definitely smell the vodka, I think. Yeah, I can smell the vodka. It’s weird ’cause vodka is supposed to be as odorless as it comes. But it’s not.
ESB: It smells like rubbing alcohol to me.
Wayne: That’s the thing. It smells like rubbing alcohol, especially the cheap ones that I tend to frequent.
ARB: Is it supposed to just be odorless once it’s coming off your breath? Because that’s the implication, right? Why else would you need it to be odorless?
Wayne: Right, I think compared to other liquors it certainly is more odorless. But you smell the alcohol. Because nothing is masking it, the alcohol comes off that much more pungent. Same exact presentation [as the first drink]. Same ice cubes, same lime, same summer camp, Greek, Greek god-summer camp, fantasy camp cup. [He takes a sip.] Hm. Wow. This is interesting because the vodka is kind of bracing—it’s really cold, too. It’s colder than the last one. But the ginger now is a better level against the vodka. You can taste the ginger as its own separate entity without it dominating the entire drink.
ARB: I think the description of this one really merits being put on the record in full.
ESB: Whip the Mule—it is apple- and clove-infused Zubrowka, which I’m assuming is the vodka, fresh lime juice, honey essence, ginger beer, and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters.
Wayne: The apple you can sort of kind of taste a little too. I couldn’t identify it, but now that you say it…
ESB: It’s a Polish vodka flavored with bison grass and scents of cherry blossom in addition to the apple and clove… [the description reads:] “This drink tells the story of a mule who grazed on bison grass and ran as if cracked by a whip.”
ARB: A positive first reaction?
Wayne: It is, yeah. I think vodka drinks—I associate them with these overly strong, like vodka mixed with—thinking back to my early twenties—vodka and diet coke. Trying to galvanize yourself with energy before a night out. It’s just a nauseating sense memory. This somehow feels more elegant and sophisticated than hanging out with a bunch of dudes in a room watching Ali G videos and drinking vodka and diet coke.
[Time passes. Jovial conversation is had. Witty remarks exchanged. Life-long friendships forged.]
ARB: You’re coming down towards the end here…how has it been so far?
Wayne: I’ve enjoyed this more. I do feel like this is the appropriate amount—the last one had like six different ginger ingredients—and this one seems like it has an appropriate amount of ginger that’s suited for the vodka also. The last one just seemed like a rye and ginger on steroids. This feels more like a drink that has some ginger in it, that’s a little more subtle and nuanced.
JMC: I’m gonna ask you this. To what degree do you think your feelings about the second drink are influenced by the first?
Wayne: I’ve always felt with food the first bite is the best; with drinks the later drinks are best. That with food, it’s before you’ve tasted too much of something, that’s when it’s most ripe and flavorful. And with alcohol, let’s be honest, the taste of alcohol itself is not that pleasant.
— general laughter —
Wayne: Alcohol as an isolated ingredient is not that pleasant a taste. And there’s something—you know, you can savor it, whatever, whiskey can be interesting. But you don’t want it when you’re a kid because—partially your taste buds haven’t evolved, maybe, to like it—but I think the body knows it’s a poison. But after you’ve had that first drink, it goes down more easily. And I’ve always found there’s a sweet spot [from] the second to the fourth drink where you’re still lucid enough to appreciate it, but your tastes have been dulled just enough to really enjoy it.
***This interview has been condensed from a longer conversation. It took Mr. Wayne longer to drink his drinks than it took you to read this interview. We hope.
(Angel’s Share photo at top courtesy of yelp.com)