The White Whale

The creamy White Whale cocktail vaguely resembles Moby Dick, with a dark cherry for an eye.

What I Did with Butterscotch Candy

About a month ago, I rediscovered some butterscotch candy which I’d chopped up for ice cream sundae toppings. Butterscotch is my favorite! To my hungry dismay, the butterscotch bits had melted a bit in the jar, not because it’s been hot, but because these quality candies aren’t meant to hold their shape over time!

You know me – anything is ripe for inclusion in a cocktail – so since I couldn’t scrape the candies out of the jar, I poured some whiskey right in on top. I knew from previous candy-steeping experiments that the alcohol would melt that candy right down.

They tell me the technical term is “steeping”, folks.

I didn’t know what I’d make with it, but I was patient as I waited for the whiskey to do its work.

The Moby-Dick Marathon

Tonight, I was idly going through my email when I saw, from the New Bedford Whaling Museum, that the annual Moby-Dick Marathon was currently in progress – virtually, of course, due to the continued pandemic.


When I was in grad school at UMass, I lived in New Bedford, and I went to every marathon. It’s an in-person, collective reading, cover-to-cover, of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The parts of the book that take place on land actually occur in New Bedford, and the town is rightly very proud of that.

Every year, the marathon is an odd party. It used to take place on January 3, the day that Melville himself shipped out from New Bedford on a whaler. Nowadays, it’s the first weekend in January, after the holidays, so that more people can hopefully attend. Not as though it’s hurting for attendance though! At any given marathon, you’ll encounter academics from higher education, field trips from middle school, oddballs, locals, bucket-listers, literary souls, night owls, you name it. A motley, proud, fun crew. It can get very festive.

New Bedford-style

It takes 25 hours to read the entire book, and it’s non-stop, as I mentioned, so the other side of the coin features a die-hard, tough-guy aspect. They don’t call it a marathon for nothing, folks; it’s a test of endurance. It begins in the late morning and goes overnight, with no breaks. The reading takes place in the Whaling Museum itself, in a couple of different locations: sometimes with part of the group (whoever can fit and can get there first) seated in an old whaling ship, but usually in the great hall, with a giant whale skeleton hung above our heads. Impressive, and a real history lesson!

Different readers are called (usually, one per chapter, but people can switch out for shorter passages). It’s difficult to sign up for a chapter because they get snapped up really quickly, even weeks in advance. Watchmen with bells signal the new watch every four hours, as happens in the book, and on real vessels.

Starting at Chapter 7, when Melville takes us to the chapel, the assembled readers and current-day spectators actually walk across the street to the real-life Seamen’s Bethel, on which Melville’s chapel was based. Starting with the immortal first words, “Call me Ishmael” through these sections – these are perhaps the most famous, fun parts of the book and to some, the best part of the marathon. This is when everyone wants to be there. Through Chapter 9, everyone’s an optimist.

As things progress, people start to drop off. Even though complimentary all-you-can-eat clam chowder and grog are served late-night downstairs – and coffee, of course – attendance really drops off after late afternoon.

Readers drop like flies in the middle of the night. I’ve been able to pick up many last-minute chapters that way.

The Reality

It’s a beautiful, often moving, often frustrating project. Sometimes you’re riveted, and sometimes you quite literally pry your eyes open. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you ponder. People congratulate each other for an especially moving, funny, or bullseye reading. Those diehards who stay for the entire 25 hours receive twin prizes: recognition by name in the local paper, and a Moby-Dick-themed book. Sometimes it’s a very tony version of Moby-Dick itself. I have some of each.

This was something I looked forward to every year. And don’t even ask – I stayed for the full marathon every time! Come on, you know I did.

After I moved away from New Bedford, I missed this ritual. But tonight, I get to listen to it, and watch virtually. Readers have pre-recorded themselves, and Whaling Museum personnel have stitched together a seamless reading. I love following along with the copy that I “won” years ago, with my notes and underlinings in it.

The Accent: Bonus!

I also love hearing my beloved Massachusetts accent, something I don’t often get to hear these days in Seattle: “idear” for “idea”, “draw-ring”  for “drawing”, “cawn-vict” for “convict”, “fah” for “far”, as well as the general vowel and word endings that make my heart sing.

The Cocktail

Back to the drink – not the Atlantic Ocean, silly, the cocktail! Of course, I called it The White Whale. And of course, it was strong, strong, strong – more than I expected it to be. What is more Moby-Dick than that?! And I had to call it a Fail, for being too strong, and not tasty enough. But it was pretty! White, with a dark “eye” from the garnish.

I considered making something with Rosso Vermouth, because you all know that’s my *real* white whale but that will be for another day.

New Bedford, it was nice to see you again tonight!

There are many quotable passages, but this is one I love:

However, a good laugh is a might good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more’s the pity.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

I try to live by this sentiment as much as possible during the pandemic, and that keeps the Pandemic Pub going.


  • Several pieces of Butterscotch Candy

  • 2 oz. Whiskey

  • 3 oz. Cream

  • 2 Amaro Cherries


  • Steep the butterscotch in the whiskey for about a month. Agitate it once in a while, when you think of it.
  • Pour the butterscotch and whiskey mixture over ice in a lowball glass.
  • Pour cream on top. The best way to keep the layers separate (not necessary, but nice to match the title) is to hold a teaspoon just above the alcohol, and slowly pour the cream over the spoon, so that it hits the spoon before hitting the liquid in the glass.
  • Garnish with Amaro Cherries so that it looks kind of like a beady whale eye in the vast expanse of white creamy flesh.
  • Call me Ishmael.
FAILED on January 9, 2021

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