Saturday, July 22, 2017

Side Notes

I’ve been meaning to feature this little box for a while, as a way to say thanks.  The box in turn was a thank you gift from the maker, Tracy Clemons, who sent it as a companion piece to the original “Writer’s Block”.  I wrote about that incredible box quite a while ago now, calling it the ultimate “Boxes and Booze” box (an honor also bestowed on Kamei’s Whiskey Bottle, of course).  The Writer’s Block is a seriously large and sturdy piece from Clemons which resembles a hefty chest. On the front it has an imposing wooden padlock keeping it all closed up tight.  To start, you must discover hidden tools which are helpful in picking that lock.  Once released, the box opens along a diagonal hinge to reveal that it is a functional writing desk, with two separate compartments which are, of course, locked.  There’s a lot more to discover and the erstwhile writer is eventually rewarded with something to help loosen his tongue – there are two whiskey glasses and a bottle compartment (yes with a bottle stashed – did you seriously have to ask) secreted away inside.

Writer's Block 2 by Tracy Clemons

One detail I never mentioned about that box was how it arrived the first time I received it from Tracy.  As stated, it’s very large and heavy.  The contents had shifted significantly and there was some damage to the box and internal contents. The padlock had snapped right off and the box was in two pieces.  A few other pieces had broken. One of the glasses had shattered.  Needless to say I was a bit disappointed.  The box was sent back and eventually returned, better than before and with some new improvements.  A few months later, something else arrived from Tracy - a little “Thanks for your patience, sorry that happened, and here’s a side piece to go with the original” gift.  

A traveling kit for when inspiration strikes while on the road ... or for when it fails to strike ...

Formally known as the “Writer’s Block 2”, this little wonder is also fondly called, at various times, the “ink blot”, the “traveler’s kit” and the “sidecar”.  It's small relative to its parent box, more the size of a standard puzzle box, and quite handsome.  With matching details and a similar design sense, the sidekick sidecar fits right in alongside the original.  On top sits a fountain pen, complete with metal nib.  The ink must be inside, obviously.  Only this is another Writer’s Block, so maybe not.  In fact there is a set of shot glasses hiding inside this clever companion piece.  The secret mechanism is wonderful as well, and perfectly ironic for the puzzle’s name.  No case of Writer’s Block would be complete now without this little bonus.

If only I could make this situation right ... err, write

I’ve also been meaning to write about another classic from the dawn of cocktails called the “Sidecar”, and this puzzle box has given me the perfect pairing opportunity.  The Sidecar is the fancy, evolved version of a prior original drink, the Brandy Crusta, which was invented in New Orleans in the mid nineteenth century by Joseph Santini.  It was then made famous by the “Professor” Jerry Thomas when he published the recipe in his 1868 cocktail book.  The Crusta elevated the cocktail game, which was typically a mix of spirits, sugar, water (ice) and bitters (i.e. the Old Fashioned), by adding some lemon juice and a sugared rim to a glass of brandy, curacao and bitters.  This was a turning point for cocktails and a leap forward, believe it or not.  If the Crusta was an evolved cocktail, the Sidecar was the refined finale.  Unlike the typical sidecar, which rides alongside the more prominent primary vehicle, the cocktail Sidecar stole the show.  The drink is of course almost identical, but as it came to life in Paris during the American Prohibition, it took on a more elegant and mystical air.  There, at the famous Harry’s New York Bar, it was made with cognac, and sweet orange Cointreau, along with the lemon juice.  The sugared rim acted as more than a flourish, providing an important additional component of sweetness essential to each sip.  The name, so the story goes, was for the Army captain who it was created for, who reportedly arrived to receive the tasty tipple in a motorcycle sidecar.  True story? Who knows.  It’s clear the drink existed as the Crusta long before the Sidecar showed up, but that’s the way the crusta crumbles.

Tantris Sidecar by Audrey Saunders

A classic sidecar would have been just fine for this pairing, but I felt like it needed, well, a little extra.  So I continued following the evolution and refinement of this drink into the current era.  Which brings us to one of the pioneering figures of the modern cocktail revival, a woman named Audrey Saunders.  Her Pegu Club bar set new standards when it opened in New York.  Through her exacting creative process she invented a handful of well known modern classics, including the “Tantris Sidecar”, an innovative and delicious update to the original.  This Sidecar once again improves on the original and takes center stage.

Calvados and Chartreuse plus a little pineapple make this sidecar take center stage 

Another apropos aside about the perfect pairing of the Writer’s Block 2 with the Sidecar pertains to the alternate meaning of the term sidecar in libation lingo.  The term was adopted by bartenders who would misjudge the amount of cocktail they were mixing, and have too much for the glass.  The extra would be poured into a shot glass and served alongside the main drink as a little bonus, a sidecar.  Some even suspect that this term is truly how the Sidecar cocktail got its name, too.  How perfect that the Writer’s Block 2, a true sidecar of a puzzle box, contains a set of shot glasses, just in case there’s a little extra liquid inspiration overflowing from the original box.  Here’s to the little extras in life – cheers!

These Sidecars are the main attraction

Tantris Sidecar by Audrey Saunders

1 ¼ oz. Cognac
½ oz. calvados
½ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup (1:1)
¼ oz. pineapple juice
¼ oz. green Chartreuse

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a sugar rimmed glass. Lemon peel garnish is traditional.  Make extra and add a little sidecar to your sidecar.

For more about Tracy Clemons:


For another Audrey Saunders modern classic cocktail:

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