"Over a Barrel"
|Barrel and Ball by John Berkeley for Donay|
Small wooden household and domestic objects were referred to as “treen” in the nineteenth century and earlier, a word derived literally from “of a tree”. Tableware, plates, bowls, snuff boxes, needle cases, handles and the like were all “treen”, created mostly through carving and turning techniques. Small treen containers shaped like barrels with simple lids were quite popular and commonly made to hold all manner of things such as tobacco, string or other knick knacks.
|African Blackwood with Boxwood stopper|
It’s no wonder that a treen barrel which did not open simply, as expected, would be an amusing diversion in those days. The Barrel and Ball Puzzle, described by Hoffman (1893), was one of the most recognizable and original puzzles of the Victorian era, consisting of a typically appearing treen barrel with a ball inside. The object was, of course, to get the ball out.
|Rosewood with Ebony stopper|
When Donald Goddard met John Berkeley, it was the start of something special. Appropriately enough, the first Hoffman puzzle that Donald requested from John was the Barrel and Ball. He sent a photo of a vintage piece, and John reproduced it in a number of beautiful woods. Boxwood is a typical light tan wood that is easy to turn, and what most treen objects were made from in the nineteenth century, but John used African Blackwood in most of the barrels he made. These were dark and lustrous, and had light colored boxwood stoppers that came out of the top of the barrels. People tended to lose the stoppers, so in later versions, he added an internal screw to the end of the stopper on the inside of the barrel, so they couldn’t fall out.
|Miniature in Pink Ivory with Ebony stopper|
Another project that Donald and John embarked upon was a series of miniatures. They intended to reproduce twelve of the Hoffman puzzles in tiny versions, but in 2003 Donald sadly died before some of their ideas were complete. Nonetheless, John did finish some tiny barrels, the nicest of which were done in Pink Ivory wood.
|Barrel Aged Spiced Negroni|
I thought that a “barrel-aged” cocktail would be appropriate to pair with these puzzles. Barrel aging should be a fairly familiar concept to most people, since even people who don’t drink alcohol have often heard about how wine or spirits are typically stored and aged. The process of placing wine or spirits into a wooden barrel is fairly straightforward and can easily be understood in historical context for storage and transport purposes (the earliest vessels for wine were made of clay). However the chemical process of barrel aging is highly scientific and interesting. Barrel aging slowly imparts oxygen, adds flavor, aroma and finish, and reduces the harsh ethanol content over time, resulting in smoother and more desirable characteristics. Depending on the spirit, there may be rules in play as well for barrel aging. For example, bourbon is by law only supposed to be aged in newly charred American Oak barrels. These are then used to age and flavor other spirits after, like cognac, sherry, or even wine.
|Like so many things, it gets better with age|
Barrel aging cocktails is another creative way to change the flavor and texture of a drink. There are plenty of examples of technically barrel aged cocktails in the archives, such as the “Swedish Punsch” mixture of Batavia Arak mixed with tea and spices that Swedish merchants would enjoy on the long sea journey home in the seventeenth century. But the modern concept of a barrel aged cocktail can be traced to Jeff Morgenthaler, the creative force behind many modern classics cocktails. He took an idea he saw in 2010 at a high concept bar in London, and modified it in a truly American way. The result, his Clyde Common barrel aged Negroni, was an instant success and ignited a global trend. I’ve created a spiced Negroni, adding a touch of ginger liqueur and allspice dram to the mix, and aging it for about 3 weeks to let things soften. Small barrels for home creativity will age drinks faster so you don’t have to wait as long. There’s also nothing quite as convenient as a premade cocktail. Class dismissed – cheers!
|Having a ball with these barrels|
Barrel Aged Spiced Negroni
(For a 750 ml barrel)
200 ml Bombay Sapphire or other juniper forward gin
200 ml Aperol amaro
200 ml Cocchi di Torino vermouth
50 ml Barrows Intense or other ginger liqueur
25 ml Besamim or other aromatic spiced liqueur such as allspice dram
Pour all ingredients into a cured oak barrel and wait approximately 3 weeks before decanting to a clean bottle. Enjoy over ice.
For Summer at Berkeley Series, Lecture 1:Heir Appearent