Saturday, March 26, 2016

You Don't Know Apple, Jack

The weather is lovely in Houston right now.  It won’t last but the beginning of spring is one of the nicest times here.  Houston is a very “green” city and has a number of large parks, a few nature preserves, and countless tree lined avenues.  The budding trees remind me of a particular puzzle box by Karakuri Creation Group artist Hiroshi Iwahara.  His designs have incredibly intricate and unusual internal mechanisms.  He has created boxes which only open according to the binary numerical system, boxes which “remember” whatever sequence is input, like a computer, and boxes which open in multiple ways, often with a more obvious solution and a second, more challenging solution needed to enter a second compartment.  He is known for creating both the “super” cubi, a cubed box requiring 324 moves to open, and the “king” cubi, which takes 1536 moves to open!  

The Box with a Tree by Hiroshi Iwahara

Another one of Iwahara’s famous creations is his “Box with a Tree” which won an “Honorable Mention” prize in the 2006 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  This unassuming little box appears to be a rather plain wooden box, originally crafted in walnut, with a small silhouette of a tree in the lower corner.  The typical exploration quickly reveals that two side panels slide about, but with no apparent intention or purpose.  There are only 4 “official” moves needed to open this box, but figuring them out is an amazing challenge.  My copy of the “Box with a Tree” is a beautiful newer version decorated with akaasa style yosegi marquetry along the sides and a much more prominent etching of an apple tree on the top.  There are also a number of bigger hints on this version, in case the tree is not enough to get you thinking.  A small apple rests at the foot of the tree, and this equation floats nearby: F=G(Mm/r).  Even with this type of excessive “hinting”, if you can still call it that, the solution is still quite elusive.  You might consider taking this one outside to work on while resting in the shade of a nice tree, in case inspiration strikes.

A tree, an apple, an equation ... hmmmm

While you are at it, why not sip on something tasty as well.  The scientific formula, and famous apple, which figure into this clever puzzle box are a century older than the spirit we will use in our cocktail, but the seeds were being planted at the time.  William Laird came from Scotland to Pennsylvania in 1698 and began what would become the oldest commercial distillery in the US, Laird and Company, founded in 1780 by his grandson Robert.  Their apple based spirit, known as applejack, runs through the course of early American history.  George Washington made his own based on the Laird recipe in 1763, and the Laird family supplied applejack to the troops in the American Revolution.  Abraham Lincoln served it at his saloon in 1833 for the same price as a night’s lodging (12 cents).  William Harrison was famous for passing it out at his rallies leading up to his presidential election (not a bad platform).  Applejack was originally a pure unblended apple spirit, and this version is still available as apple “brandy”. Laird’s 12-year aged apple brandy rivals a fine cognac.  Modern applejack, by law, is now a blend of 35% apple brandy with 65% grain spirit, aged for four years in old bourbon barrels.  

The Jack Rose, circa 1910

With such a long history, there is no doubt that applejack was mixed into cocktails long before anyone wrote down the recipe, so tracing the origins of the “Jack Rose” gets a bit murky but there are plenty of stories.  Like a whiskey sour, the Jack Rose uses applejack and citrus (originally lime, now lemon) and is sweetened with grenadine rather than simple sugar.  Grenadine, from the French word for pomegranate “grenade”, is best made fresh from either Pom juice or even fresh squeezed fruit, but can be store bought.  The syrupy sweet store versions will be vastly different and change the drink, however.  Sometime around the turn of the 20th century this combination of apple”jack” and pink grenadine was likely dubbed the “Jack Rose” cocktail, and recipes emerged in 1908.  A more exciting story involves a gangster of the era also known as Jack Rose (among other names) for whom the drink may have been named.  The drink remains a classic due to its simplicity, balance, and taste – it’s delicious.  So mix up some history and ponder something “new ton-ight”.  Cheers!

This apple's not far from the tree!

The Jack Rose (adapted from Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book):
2 oz Laird's Applejack
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz homemade grenadine
Shake over ice and strain into a favorite glass.

For more about Hiroshi Iwahara:

For a whiskey sour please see:

For prior Boxes and Booze featuring the work of Hiroshi Iwahara please see:
I'll Tell You a Secret
High Standards

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