Sunday, June 7, 2015

Perfect Duets

The “duet” box is a lovely puzzle composed of two interdependent cubes which are fused together, and which require one another for each to open and reveal their individual secret compartments.  It’s an elegant idea brought to life by master craftsman Hideaki Kawashima, a member of the Karakuri Creation Group.  The Karakuri Group is so important to the ancient art of Japanese puzzle box making that it deserves a separate blog post all of its own, so stay tuned.  My copy of the duet box is in beautiful contrasting woods composed of cherry, magnolia, maple and karin.
The two distinct colors add to the balance and interplay of each side and compliment the central theme of the puzzle so well.  In Hideaki’s description, he comments that “Two boxes were connected by the internal structure” and he suggests that the box would be even more interesting if the inner structure connecting the boxes were visible.  He may have only been referring to the actual puzzle, but it's a lovely sentiment.  To open each box, moves must be alternated from one side to the other in a balanced dance.  The boxes are distinct but co-dependent.  This romantic metaphor inspired me to create a duet cocktail and to dedicate it and this blog post to my duet partner in life, my wife.

The Duet Box by Hideaki Kawashima

We spent the early days of our relationship and life together in Manhattan, which provides an incredible launching point for a cocktail.  After all, the Manhattan is one of the greatest cocktails of all time.  A classic Manhattan combines 2 parts rye whiskey with one part Italian (sweet) vermouth and a few dashes (drops) of Angostura bitters.  Bitters are like the seasoning to a good cocktail – you wouldn’t leave out the salt when making soup, would you?  You have to stir the ingredients with ice, which dilutes and combines, and pour into a well selected glass.  This is not a shaken drink.  The Manhattan has uncountable variations which alter the recipe in subtle ways, which is also a sign of a true classic, and each variation has its own name.

To understand where I’m going with this I have to let you know some background information, which is that I attended Haverford College and my wife attended Brown University.  It turns out that a variation exists called the “Brown University” cocktail, in which the rye is changed to bourbon and the sweet vermouth is switched to French (dry) vermouth, with 1:1 proportions rather than 2:1 as in the original, and with the addition of orange bitters instead of angostura.  The drink is lighter and arguably (guess who would argue this) more sophisticated.

The Brown University Cocktail

Depending on how you look at it, the fact that there is no “Haverford College” variation I could find in the history books, is either a sign of an inferior college (guess who) or a fantastic opportunity to coin one (my take).  My version of the “Haverford College” cocktail goes back to the original Manhattan, with 2:1 rye and sweet vermouth, but instead of angostura bitters, uses a barspoon full of Hum liqueur.  Hum is an amazing sugar cane based spirit infused with hibiscus, ginger, cardamom and lime flavors.  It also gives reference to the singing group of my college days, the Haverford Humtones (!).

The Haverford College Cocktail:
Here's to good 'ol college, 'cause it's there we get the knowledge ...

Now for the duet.  Yet another well known variation of the Manhattan exists in which equal parts sweet and dry vermouth are added to the rye, which is known as a “Perfect” Manhattan.  Combining the Brown University (dry vermouth) and the Haverford College (sweet vermouth) cocktails, which have the addition of orange bitters and Hum liqueur, yields the “Perfect Duet” cocktail.  It’s complicated, but it works, and it’s worth the effort every time.  Cheers, sweetheart. 

The Perfect Duet Cocktail

The Brown University:
1 ½ oz bourbon
1 ½ oz dry (white) vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir with ice and pour

The Haverford College:
2 oz rye
1 oz sweet (red) vermouth
Barspoon Hum liqueur
Stir with ice and pour

The Perfect Duet:
1 oz rye
1 oz bourbon
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Few drops Hum liqueur
Stir with ice and pour. Best when making two.

A toast to Perfect Duets

For the original Manhattan: 

For more on Hideaki Kawashima:


  1. Great post and great cocktail - you're an old smoothie with the duet to your wife theme! I should try that approach myself!


  2. Nice write up. The Duet Box looks very nice! I am not much of a drinker myself, wine rather than cocktails...but I can identify with Manhattan, having lived in NY from 1992-1993 as a student.