Saturday, October 1, 2016

Autumn Daze

Welcome to the south, sun.  On September 22 the sun’s ecliptic (the imaginary plane along which the planets orbit) intersected with the celestial equator (the imaginary projection into space of Earth’s equator) to mark the autumnal aequus (equal) nox (night) – more commonly known as the equinox.   The days are now getting shorter and the temperature cooler (in the northern hemisphere at least) as the sun spends its time south of the celestial equator.  Hopefully things will cool off soon in Texas, too!

The Autumn Box by Robert Yarger

Last spring we enjoyed a springtime “daisy” cocktail to celebrate the early bird (see why spring came early this year).  The classic daisy is light and refreshing with a base spirit (originally gin), citrus and sweetener.  It gave rise to another well known classic, the margarita (daisy in Spanish) which swapped the gin for tequila. We paired up the daisy with Kamei’s “Spring Box” to keep with the theme, of course.  It’s only fitting we continue that theme now, and give fall its fair due.
The Autumn Box by Robert Yarger takes on a more traditional rectangular prism (box) shape than many of his designs, yet remains one of his more beautiful creations thanks to the vibrant fall colors it features.  Made with shimmering leopardwood, dark wenge, and the bright reddish orange padauk which really makes it pop, the Autumn Box does evoke the traditional feelings of fall.  

Something sneaky going on here ...

Robert describes how working with the red wood left a strange coating of sawdust over his shop so it looked like he was on Mars.  The box appears rather straightforward, with two apparent end panels locked in place by long dovetailed slider bars.  Getting one side open is usually not too tricky, but don’t “fall” for that – there’s something going on you may have missed, and revealing the second hidden compartment is all but impossible until you discover the exact set of secret moves required.  Winter may come on ere you deduce these devious moves, but you won’t mind.  The box is so pleasing to look at and manipulate, you can take your time.

The Autumn Daze

While doing just that we can sip on something special to celebrate the season.  The spring daisy we enjoyed the last time the days and nights were equally long was light and refreshing.  Let’s put an autumn spin on that and bundle up with a little warmth, shall we?  I mentioned that the margarita can be considered a daisy with tequila (for a little history of the margarita see here).  For this autumn daisy I used a special anejo tequila which has been infused with serrano peppers and cinnamon.  Anejo tequilas are aged for at least 1 year, often in oak barrels, which adds complexity and maturity similar to other aged spirits.  The aging for this particular tequila is for 28 months, which imparts a rich amber color as well, and the infusion of peppers and cinnamon give it a uniquely warming heat and delicious spice.  To this wonderful base I added lime juice and lightly sweetened things up with the perfect dry curacao.  Finally a few dashes of chocolate bitters to enhance the orange and cinnamon flavors and we have the perfect fall cup to contemplate these autumn days.  As the days grow shorter, let one of these “Autumn Daze” cocktails put you into a pleasant autumn daze.  Cheers!

A double dose of autumn

The Autumn Daze:
2 oz Soltado Anejo Tequila (if you don’t have Soltado, try infusing some spice to a different anejo)
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
2 dashes Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Shake together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with some chilly weather and warm companions.

For the previous equinox this year see:

For other boxes by Robert Yarger see:

For the perfect margarita see:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

More(tis) Dovetail At-ten(on)-tion

We’re back in Texas again after a few weeks of setting sail via the Southern Cross and the high seas.  It’s good to be on dry land again!  You might think things are cooling off a bit as fall quickly approaches, but it’s still hot here in Texas!  Let’s ignore the weather and explore some local “cool” anyway.  Last year around this time, following on the heels of the International Puzzle Party, Houstonians Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson hosted their annual fall party, where I created the “Puzzle Box No. 2” cocktail and wrote about Malcolmson’s beautiful Japanese style box of the same name.  Also known as the “16 move puzzle box”, it features gorgeous contrasting waves of wood and a tricky locking pin device added to the more traditional sliding panel movements.  Robert Sandfield and his brother Norman are also well known for their “dovetail” puzzle designs which feature “impossible” dovetail joints at all edges, making the construction appear all but impossible.  To create these wooden illusions requires woodworking master precision, and luckily the Sandfields have been able to collaborate with Kathleen Malcolmson and Perry McDaniel, two incredible Texan woodworking artists, over the years. 

ReBanded Dovetail by Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson

As another tribute to my puzzling neighbors and just in time for this year's gathering, I present a few more of their beautiful creations.  The Sandfield’s ReBanded Dovetail was their IPP 32 exchange puzzle in 2012.  Designed by Robert and Kathleen and crafted by Kathleen from light baltic birch plywood, walnut and lacewood, these little boxes feature a double dovetail on the ends and are wrapped tightly with double bands of shimmering lacewood.  They are a follow-up to the original Banded Dovetail box exchanged at IPP 29.  Robert felt that the original version, which Kathleen ironically mentions was harder to make, was a little easier to solve than he wanted (which reportedly meant that some people were able to solve it too quickly!).  

Lovely lacewood lends luster

So of course he designed this version, which has a completely new mechanism and adds a few extra steps.  Like the original, there is a coin hidden inside to discover.  I’m taking a bit of puzzle box liberty to call this a “box” but it does have a storage compartment inside for the coin, which counts in my book.  The ReBanded Dovetail is an expertly crafted little beauty and really fun to explore.  Like all of Robert’s designs, it disguises its secrets well, plays with your assumptions and makes you discover each step in turn.

A triple layer-cake ... but how!?!

The Three-Layer-Double-Dovetail (TLDD) was Robert Sandfield’s exchange puzzle in 2014.  This small box was a collaboration by all three friends – Sandfield, McDaniel and Malcolmson.  It exemplifies the impossible dovetail concept – all four sides have a dovetail joint (how is that possible?!?).  The TLDD takes things a bit further by contrasting lovely dark Honduran Mohagony with light Primavera wood to create a triple layered effect.  When the box is opened you can inspect that middle layer, and truly marvel at Kathleen’s remarkable craftsmanship.  There’s even a gift waiting for you in the tiny space inside – Robert doesn’t like people to leave empty handed.  It’s another wonderful work of art from this group of talented Texans!



Last year’s “Puzzle Box No 2” cocktail made mention of another drink called the “Dovetail”, but mostly owed its existence to the New York Sour, a favorite classic.  With all these impossible dovetailed details on display this year, I thought we should revisit the Dovetail cocktail for its own merit.  A modern drink created at the Bradstreet Craftshouse in Minneapolis, the Dovetail combines orange liqueur (originally with Grand Marnier), grapefruit and lemon juices, and orange bitters.  Grapefruit are coming into season here in Texas as well, where the Rio Star are the reddest, sweetest variety in the world, so it dovetails nicely.  

The Dovetail adapted from Bradstreet Craftshouse

I’m more partial to a less sweet cocktail, so used Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curacao (rather than the sweeter Grand Marnier), a modern recreation of the “old style” of French curacao found in the 19th century and made in the “ancient method”.  This involves using a base spirit of grape brandy, and a subtle technique known as mise en value (“enhancing”) in which unnoticed background flavors are used to bring out the main flavor (in this case, orange).  These mystery ingredients, such as sun-dried walnut skins, grilled almonds, and prunes, are aged in cognac before being added to the mix to create the orange “essence”.  The flavor is just right and fantastic when trying to experience how classic old cocktails might have tasted in their hey-day. Perhaps I like this orange liqueur even more due to the description of this process by Alexandre Gabriel, the owner of Pierre Ferrand: "You don't taste the puzzle, but the orange in its whole."  Here’s a Texas toast to these delightful dovetails. Cheers ya’ll!

These delights dovetail nicely!

Dovetail (adapted from Bradstreet Craftshouse):

2 oz orange liqueur (such as Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao)
1 1/2 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3 generous dashes of orange bitters
grapefruit twist garnish

Shake ingredients together over ice and staring into a favorite glass.  Express grapefruit and garnish.

For Kathleen Malcolmson's 16-move puzzle box see:

For another talented Texan see:

For more cocktails with orange curacao see;

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Get Groggy and Talk Like a Pirate!

The Booze


The Box



Aaaaargh!  No, I didn’t just stub my peg leg, ye fools, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day again!  This silly celebration sets sail on September 19 each year so it’s time to engage in more ribaldry and weigh anchor on another fine adventure.  Ye may recall my prittle-prattle last year when we took to the high seas and plundered Miyamoto’s Pirate Chest while getting squiffy with a Dark and Stormy cocktail.  Well buckle yer bootstraps cause this year we’ll feather yer nest with another fine fancy to pair and ponder.  

The Pirate's Wallet by Robert Yarger - it'll run a rig on ye!

What perfect puzzle awaits our picaroon pirates today?  Why, it's the aptly named “Pirate’s Wallet”, created by none other than that Admiral of the Black, Robert Yaaaaarrrger.  Crafted from ambrosia maple, the Pirate’s Wallet is an impressive looking solid wood chest replete with functional wooden hinges and latch straps made of yellowheart and redheart woods.  But enough of that flummery.  In front is a wooden padlock which keeps things well secured, and there’s even a wooden key provided.  Aye, but that would be far too easy for our cunning privateers, even when they’re loaded to the gunwalls.  On this particular pirate chest, the lock is actually … the key.  That ol’ sly boots Cap’n Yarger be ever the poet.  Ye have to pick this lock apart, if ye dare, and the pieces ye discover will be used as keys to unlock the rest of the chest – if ye can figure out how.  This chest be full of quirks and quillets to turn ye into a ragamuffin so yer fit to be frummagemmed.  There are two secret chambers awaiting ye inside, and nothing is as it seems.  The box will bamboozle the jackanape after its booty.  If ye’re clever enough to tackle the thirty-three tasks set by puzzle master Yarger, ye’ll end up flush in the pocket.  Or ye might stay spiflicated till ye find that ultimate pirate puzzle - the eternity box.

Blasted key gives no quarter! Where's me cutlass? Aaaarrrgh!

 Now don’t be looking like death’s head upon a mop stick, me hearties, there’s rum to be had!  But don’t ye be drinking it all at once – who knows when we’ll have the chance to steal some more?  We’ll just stretch it out for the long journey – a little trick we learned from those scallywags in the Navy.  We’ll add some lovely limes to keep away the scurvy, a little brown sugar (pirates can be sweet, too, ye know), and dilute it up with water (hope it’s fresh, but bah, the rum should kill off anything nasty) so’s to make it go farther.  

Grog! circa 1655-1740

What’s that ye say?  Why it’s Grog, of course! And a rum fine nip of Nelson’s folly it is, too.  Just mix up these four fellows, as the old rhyme says: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.  Now, being the rum bluffer I am, I used some extra fine rum just for ye, dark and aged well, so don’t hang the jib unless ye want a dowse on the chops.  They say this pirate potion was actually conceived of by British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon in the 1700’s, reputed to wear a coat of grogram cloth and known as “Old Grog”, but I say that tale’s all higgledy piggledy.  He must have been a pirate.  We’ll sort this scuttlebutt out one of these odd-come-shortlys, but let’s not waste more time – there’s Grog in yer hand (or hook) so sluice yer gobs, guzzle guts!  Splice the main brace and get plundering!  Bottoms Up!

This rum treasure chest keeps ye puzzling till yer groggy!

Grog:

1-2 oz dark rum (dependin’ on the gen’rosity of yer Capn’)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz demerara syrup or brown sugar
4 oz water (fresh, if ye can wrest it from the bilge rats)


Shake over ice and pour it down yer bung hole (or a tankard filled with crushed ice will do)

Careful or ye'll bung yer eye like this rum roger!

For more about Cap'n Yaaaarrrger see:

For last year's pirate day prittle-prattle avail yerself here:

For the official "Talk Like A Pirate Day" site go here:
http://talklikeapirate.com/wordpress/

For all ye struggling with this blasted "Pirate Speak" here is a glossary of terms to enlighten' ye:
Boxes and Booze Unboxed: Pirate Glossary

Now, be nice, blast ye, and leave a comment, or I'll see yer scragged!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Double Crossed

Last week we set sail to southern destinations while listening to some Crosby, Stills and Nash, exploring the incredible Cross Box by Robert Yarger, and enjoying the classic Southern Cross cocktail by “The Only” William, a famous bartender of the day in turn of the (20th) century New York City.  We’ll continue our journey south, following our starry guide in the southern hemisphere, the “Southern Cross”.  Leaving Oklahoma and the Stickman Cross Box, we make our way down to Texas (don’t mess with us) where we find another master of wooden puzzle madness named Randal Gatewood.  He ups the ante with not one but two crosses, in his “Double Crossed” Puzzle Box.  

The Double Crossed Puzzle Box by Randal Gatewood

This beautiful box is crafted from Argentine Walnut and Palo Blanco Acacia woods and features bow tie splined corners, an internal aromatic cedar liner and an amazing all wood double action hinge inside which raises the lid in a fascinating manner.  On top of the box there is a prominent cross outlined in contrasting wood.  Exploration reveals that each of the twelve sections of the cross can move, although most appear to be locked in place initially.  The name of the box is a play on words, since this cross will make you cross as it double crosses you.  As you slide pieces about (if you can even get the first piece to move at all), you will likely find that your progress has suddenly been erased by this devious device.  At times you will need to hold things in place to prevent this from happening, and towards the endgame there is a move requiring you to hold back not one, not two, but three separate pieces at once in order to make the next move.  It’s like a game of puzzle box twister.  You are finally rewarded with an interior as beautiful as the exterior, and can marvel at the meticulously crafted wooden hinge and wonder how all those internal springs and set-backs can be made entirely out of wood.

This one will double cross you, and give you hell. (sorry, couldn't resist)

Continuing the theme, we can up the ante on “The Only” William Schmidt’s Southern Cross cocktail as well.  We’ll swap out the base spirit of white rum for something quite a bit bolder and funkier, some Smith and Cross Jamaican rum.  This distinctive rum, which has a dark caramel color from molasses, is made from some very unique pot stills and dates back to 1788.  It is presented at “Navy Strength”, which is 57% alcohol by volume (114 Proof).  Navy strength was the minimum percentage of alcohol needed to still be able to ignite gunpowder if it were to be soaked in the spirit (sailors of old could never be too careful).  It’s also how we got the term “proof” – as in, this rum ration better not be diluted – let’s soak it in gunpowder, ignite it, and see the proof.  It became the standard concentration for rum in the British Royal Navy, back when daily rum was good for soldiers.

The Double Cross, adapted from William Schmidt

Jamaican rum is also often fermented with wild yeast, which can add an odd, strong flavor (let’s just call it “funky”).  Now we’ve got Smith and Cross in our Southern Cross – it’s a double cross.  In case you missed it.  If that wasn’t enough (it was, truly) I’ve swapped out the classic brandy for an intense apricot “rakia” brandy, of which I’m particularly fond.  So double cross your fingers and hope you get to try one of the Southern Cross versions for yourself someday soon.  I’m sailing on into the sunset now, my destination a puzzle, but I’ll see you here next time on our next journey, and leave you with another soulful sailor’s song, this time from Van Morrison: “Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea, and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic.”  Cheers!

Don't be cross if you're seeing double ...

The Double Cross (adapted from William Schmidt circa 1891):

1 ½ oz Smith and Cross Jamaican rum
½ oz apricot brandy
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz demerera syrup
1 barspoonful orange curacao

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.

For more information about Randal Gatewood:

For a prior puzzle box by Randal Gatewood please see:

For the original Southern Cross cocktail:

For other rum cocktails see:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Setting Sail

The last time I wrote about a traveling theme I was waxing fantastic about a journey to the stars, discussing Kasho’s rocket ship and Kawashima’s planets, and enjoying a few incredible cocktails along the journey.  This time we’re off on a nautical themed jaunt as we set sail.  Still, we look to the stars for some guidance.  The Southern Cross (the constellation “Crux”) has been used to navigate the seas in the southern hemisphere for centuries, much like its friend the “North Star” in the other half of the world.  Our pals “down under” will need no explanations – the Southern Cross is featured on the flags of many southern nations including Australia and New Zealand. So let’s, in the immortal words of Steven Stills, get “out of town on a boat goin' to Southern islands” and find some boxes and booze.

Stickman No. 12 Puzzle Box ("Cross Box") by Robert Yarger

Our first stop is by way of Oklahoma, magically, where the wonderful woodworker Robert Yarger has “tinkered” to create another incredible design known as the “Cross Box”.  Officially the “Stickman No. 12 Puzzle Box” got its nickname from the barrier on top which holds the blocks inside, but it could have just as easily been called the “block box”, for example.  The puzzle is a beautiful carved cage, made of candy apple red bloodwood with intricately inlaid details of purpleheart, beli and maple, which rests upon clawed feet.  It houses a set of 17 walnut wooden blocks which are adorned with grooves and pegs.  These form a three-dimensional sliding maze inside the cage.  The base of the cage hides a secret drawer which can only be opened by navigating a special block into the correct position, with a clue provided by the inlay on the box. 

One of the barriers which keeps all the blocks inside, and lends the nickname

Like most of Robert’s boxes, this is a meta-puzzle, requiring you to solve a puzzle in order to solve the puzzle box itself.  And of course it’s not so simple, nor is there only one objective.  Once the first secret drawer is opened, it locks in place, requiring you to solve the three dimensional block maze in a different way to ultimately find the second compartment and be able to close the drawer again.  The blocks, with their grooves and pegs, and the cage, with its barriers, form a brilliant and difficult puzzle which requires thinking many moves ahead if you hope to unlock its secrets.  It’s also a stunning sculptural work of art.


While navigating this perplexing puzzle lets sip on something seaworthy as well.  Perhaps a combination of lime juice (we are at sea, after all, and don’t want scurvy), sugar, rum, brandy, curacao and mineral water?  The “Southern Cross” cocktail is attributed to William Schmidt, who published “The Flowing Bowl: What and When to Drink, Full Instructions How To Prepare, Mix and Serve Beverages” in 1891 under his moniker “The Only William”.  That was before people called themselves by one name – now he would probably just call himself “William” and he would be friends with “Beyonce”.  He was, after all, a celebrity bartender of the day, often featured in the New York papers, and known for his magnanimous personality and inspired cocktail creations.  As you might expect, photos confirm he sported one impressive moustache. 

The Southern Cross by William Schmidt circa 1891

He valued courtesy, politeness and quality in his profession, and was quoted saying that these elements improved the flavor of his drinks, which he called his “liquid pictures”.  He was an artist behind the bar, and I’ll happily toast his memory with this tasty combination of rum and lime while enjoying the modern day artistry of Robert Yarger, who also embodies these fine characteristics and more.  Robert is an artist and a gentleman, and his incredible work might be considered his “wooden stories”.  Now I’ll set sail again and leave you with Steven Stills once more: “I have been around the world, Lookin' for that woman girl, Who knows love can endure, And you know it will” … Cheers!

Glad to cross paths with this pair

The Southern Cross by “The Only” William Schmidt circa 1891:

“Juice of 1 lime” (I used 1 oz)
“A dash of mineral water”                                                   
“a spoonful of sugar” (I used ½ oz simple syrup)
“2/3 of St. Croix rum” (I used 1 ½ oz Plantation white rum)
“1/3 of brandy” (I used ½ oz)
“1 dash of curacao” (I used a barspoonful)

The original recipe calls for stirring and pouring into a “sour” glass but a more modern approach is to shake this with ice well and strain into a favorite glass filled with crushed ice.

For more information about Robert Yarger:

For a prior fantastic journey please see:

For other rum based creations see:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Great Scott!

I’ve gone “on location” for a write up a few times before, to favorite bars where the cocktail pairing was made by the house.  I brought the puzzle boxes along for the ride and set them up at the bar or on a table.  I’ve even toted a puzzle to the beaches of Hawaii (Perry McDaniel’s Hawaiian High Jinks) for a write up.  Last year I made a cocktail on location but still brought the box, at a Houston “puzzle party” based in the home of Robert Sandfield.  This time while on location things were a little different – I hadn’t planned it but there was a box that I just had to write about.  I wasn’t sure when or if I’d get another chance to see it, being one of the only two copies in existence.  At the recent Rochester Puzzle Picnic (RPP) hosted by Jeff Aurand, Brett Kuehner brought along his copy of the famous “Tinker Box” crafted and designed by Neil Hutchison and Robert Yarger.   The boxes were made as special gifts for the IPP 35 hosts last year.  I had the rare opportunity to explore and solve the box with its creator (Neil) hovering nearby, offering his brand of useful comments such as “would you, now?”, “is that what you thought?” or “that may or may not be necessary”.  Neil has a rather dry sense of humor.  It was actually an amazing pleasure to have him adding color commentary and historical insight as the box progressed, learning about stumbling blocks in the creative process and areas where he had to correct issues or rework sections.

Tinker Box by Neil Hutchison and Robert Yarger

The Tinker Box is a gorgeous piece of woodwork which requires 49 steps to reveal all three secret compartments.  The main structure is made from beautiful leopardwood and gives the box a striking patterned appearance.  It rests on hand carved legs which sprout claw like feet.  On top there are six cubic attachments along the edges of the box, which themselves are connected in various ways to links, gears and levers on the top.  One set of these appears to be connected via a long axis gear of some sort, with a complicated looking central cylinder.  There are columns and pins and shafts and levers in rich detail made from wenge and maple.  Along the front there appear to be various compartments.  

A complex set of shafts, gears, levers and connectors adorn the top

An important design concept held by the creators is that one should be able to discern the objective of a good puzzle from close observation, and go from there.  With that in mind, studying the Tinker Box does lead to a few ideas on how to get things started, and eventually you are on your way and may even discover what appears to be a tool which springs out at you, although there are no springs. Hmmm.  Don’t forget to observe this tool as well, just like everything else, or it may just remain a great head scratcher for you.  Hopefully you will be able to put the tool to better use.  At this point you might also fall prey to another clever (or devious) design detail by the creators which seems to go against your better judgement and instincts. “Does it, now?” says Neil, nodding and grinning.  Of course if you haven’t been paying attention, using the tool won’t seem to have helped at all.  At last, you are rewarded with an open compartment. “Congratulations,” says Neil. “That’s one.”  Sigh.  Two more await, and the second is a great reveal and very satisfying indeed.  In fact, there is a little scroll waiting for you there, on which there is a space to write your name and sign the “guestbook” as it were.  It’s a beautiful box, as you would expect from these artists, which spares no detail or mechanism.

Rob Roy circa 1894

Neil Hutchison originally hails from Scotland, so pairing up the Tinker Box with a cocktail naturally started there.  We have to head back to late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and meet Robert Roy MacGregor, a Scottish outlaw and folk hero known as the “Scottish Robin Hood” who took part in the Jacobite rising. His life was fictionalized in the “Highland Rogue” (1723) and later in Sir Walter Scott’s “Rob Roy” (1817).  More importantly, of course, was the creation of the famous cocktail in his honor, which occurred at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1894 to celebrate a new operetta about his life.  A Rob Roy is simply a Scotch Manhattan, that quintessential classic of rye and sweet vermouth, and equally delicious.  Those of us who appreciate a fine single malt scotch would rather not use one in a cocktail, and therefore I prefer to use a blend when making a scotch cocktail.  Luckily Jeff, our consummate host, had the perfect bottle on hand (not to mention an incredible vermouth).  The cocktail was quite satisfying, or at least Neil pretended to like it. He told me something like, “a clean shirt’ll do ye”. That’s good, right?
All kidding aside I’d like to thank Jeff, Brett and Neil for access to the legendary Tinker Box.  It’s incredible to learn that just 6 years ago, Neil had never made a thing out of wood.  Thank goodness someone suggested he try. Cheers and “lang may yer lum reek”!

A couple of Highland Rogues

Rob Roy:
2 oz Blended Scotch
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Orange peel

Stir ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass. Express the orange peel over the glass and drop inside.

For more about the Tinker Box:

For Neil Hutchison’s Blog:

For prior Boxes and Booze “on location” please see:


For more about last year’s Houston Puzzle Party see:


Can I get a hint, Neil?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sloe Down

As summer winds down and we start looking forward to Autumn I thought we should enjoy at least one more refreshing gin based drink.  Here in Houston the heat lasts for a lot longer as well so it's easy to justify.  Something like a classic and simple Tom Collins, with gin, lemon and fizz.  It’s like grown-up lemonade and great for poolside sipping.  I also have a beautiful bottle of Greenhook Ginsmith’s Beach Plum Gin, gifted from a good friend, and any excuse to add that is a good excuse.  Beach plum gin is a unique variation on classic sloe gin, the British autumn staple, but since it’s beach plum we can happily call this a (late) summer drink.  

Beach Plum Sloe Gin Fizz

Let’s back up a bit and explain sloe gin, first of all.  As the story goes, sometime in early 17th century Britain, the Enclosure Act began a land ordinance which divided public lands into private farmsteads.  Borders were established via hedgerows of Blackthorn, which produced the tart sloe berry each autumn.  It wasn’t long before these found their way into the abundant gin production of the day and viola, sloe gin was born.  Like Italian lemoncello, sloe gin is still best found as a homemade family recipe in small batches, but there are a few companies now mass producing delicious versions for all of us. 

Creative Secret Box 1 "Snail"

Sloeing things down a bit on the puzzling side as well, I present the “Snail” box, a collaborative effort from the Karakuri Creation Group.  This one is from their “Creative Secret Box” series, an initiative they developed to bring new and unusual mechanisms and movements to the classic looking puzzle box.  The Snail box, the first in the series, was designed by Shiro Tajima and crafted by Tatsuo Miyamoto.  It features the colorful and abstract yosegi design patterns seen on all of the creative secret series puzzle boxes.  

Colorful abstract patterned yosegi

I love the mechanism on this one.  It’s very simple, but very clever and may take you awhile to discover.  It certainly utilizes a movement and concept not seen prior to its creation.  It’s well hidden and must have required perfect precision to create. So slow down while exploring this one, no rush – you might even say, go at a snail’s pace.

For the Sloe Gin Fizz you can go a little faster, it’s quick and simple to make.  But then take your time enjoying it – you can easily complete this solution in a few seconds if you’re not showing some restraint!  Here’s to the late days of summer winding down.  Slow down and enjoy them before they’re all gone again for a year. Cheers!


Sloe down and enjoy a few more good summer memories

Sloe Gin Fizz (from the PDT Cocktail book by Jim Meehan)

1 oz Plymouth Gin
1 oz Sloe Gin (I used Greenhook’s Beach Plum Gin)
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
3 oz sparkling water or club soda

Shake all ingredients except soda water over ice and strain into a tall glass.  Top with the soda water and pause for a while.

For more information about the Karakuri Creation Group:


For prior boxes by Shiro Tajima please see:

For prior boxes by Tatsuo Miyamoto please see: