Saturday, March 25, 2017

Unconventionally Dimensionally

I hope the boxes and booze creations I present each week are full of life.  I try to paint a picture of them as they appear in real life, with backgrounds, stories, and details. I make an effort to infuse them with tangible edges, colors, flavors and feeling.  I’d hate to think they came across as two-dimensional … or would I?

Two-dimensional Secret Box by Hiroshi Iwahara

 One of the Japanese Karakuri Creation Group artists who has delighted in pushing the boundaries of what is possible is Hiroshi Iwahara.  He created the “Two-dimensional Secret Box” for an exhibition with the theme “Two”.   Not satisfied to merely select a pair, or a double of some sort, such as with Kakuda’s “Two Traps” for that same exhibit,  Iwahara delved into dimensional space.  How could a three-dimensional object reflect a two-dimensional one?  Or in fact how could a two-dimensional object be represented in three?  He notes that a truly two-dimensional object would have no inner space, which would defeat the purpose of a puzzle box.  Yet a classic three-dimensional puzzle box is clearly not two-dimensional.  He expertly plays with this concept and captures it just right, in this brilliant box.  He has transformed the classic yosegi covered Japanese puzzle box onto this flattened surface to create a two-dimensional / three-dimensional hybrid.  The result is elegant, surprising and fun, and well worth spending some of the fourth dimension.

Beautiful yosegi box ... er, hexagon

I’ve paired this dimension defying delight with the “Take Two” by Tyson Buhler from Death and Company.  The drink is a variation on the classic daiquiri, which I have extolled time and again.  This one combines a nicely aged rum with lime juice, cane syrup, a touch of absinthe, and “Bergerac Mix”, which deserves some explaining.  Bergerac Mix began life with a novelty name dreamed up by another Death and Company team member, Brad Farran.  He wanted to create a cocktail called “Cynaro De Bergerac” which used the artichoke based Italian amaro, Cynar, and a rich red wine from France’s Bergerac region.  To these two ingredients he added Black Strap rum and Demerara syrup, which became known as “Bergerac Mix”.  

Take Two by Tyson Buhler

The Cynaro De Bergerac cocktail which uses this mix is delicious and full of flair – you might even say it has “panache”.  The mix was too tasty to be limited to one specialty cocktail, so Buhler included it in his daiquiri drink for a second take.  The resulting Take Two is full of richly satisfying layered flavors which absolutely pop in three-dimensions.  Here’s to surprising depths, interdimensional secrets, new perspectives and double-takes.  Cheers!

So good you might need to take more than one

Take Two by Tyson Buhler

1 oz aged rum (Ron Del Barrilito 3-Star)
1 oz Bergerac Mix (equal parts Cynar, Bergerac red wine, Black Strap rum and Demerera syrup)
1 dash absinthe (Vieux Pontarlier)
¾ oz lime juice
½ oz cane sugar syrup

Shake well with ice and strain into a favorite three-dimensional vessel.  Garnish with lime.

Seeing double ... twice

For more information about Hiroshi Iwahara:

For more daiquiri variations see:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Tolkien of Appreciation

 “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R.Tolkien

I started this little adventure on a whim, thinking it might be a nice way to share my puzzle box collection with others who also enjoy that sort of thing, and to write about cocktails and cocktail history, another hobby of mine.  It was admittedly an odd combination, and probably ended up alienating many enthusiasts from both groups (those who prefer boxes, and those who prefer booze).  But there are quite a few similarities between these groups.  Both puzzle box and cocktail enthusiasts love to know all about the fine ingredients that go into the making – the exact types of exotic woods or specialty liqueurs used.  They like to know the history and provenance of the creations.  They like the obscure, the fragile, the limited or extinct.  They celebrate the creators, the inventors, and look to old books to point out that something had its roots long before or is based on a historical design.  They marvel at new creations, using techniques never before seen, and enjoy awarding prizes for the best in class.  It turns out, I haven’t met a puzzle box collector who doesn’t like a good drink, now and then, or a mixologist who wasn’t at least intrigued by one of my puzzle boxes.

There’s also the Japanese connection.  The puzzle box was invented in Japan and the cocktail in America, but there is a rich and distinct heritage of cocktails in Japan, where the drinks are made with acute precision and attention to detail, much like a traditional tea ceremony.  There is a specific method to everything – how the ice is added, how the shaker is maneuvered, how many times the drink is stirred.  Stepping into a Japanese cocktail bar is like stepping back in time, and new ideas pay homage to the old, just like the work of the new wave of Japanese puzzle box artisans.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” – J.R.R.Tolkien

I decided to write about these things, with some of my time, and now find that time has taken me to my one-hundredth puzzle and potion pairing.  For this milestone I offer something special, a tribute to a literary hero of mine whose writing inspired me in my youth and whose messages continue to live on.

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.” _ J.R.R.Tolkien

One Ring Box by Kim Klobucher

I recently acquired the perfect puzzle box for this tribute, from an elusive designer whose work is highly sought after and sadly scarce.  His occasional releases sell out immediately.  Kim Klobucher crafts his beautiful boxes in Washington state on Bainbridge Island from a myriad of exotic hardwoods, brass and other materials.  Each typically appears as a patchwork quilt of colors forming a cube or rectangular box and is often adorned with decorative brass or stone inlay.  The boxes rely on an internal pin and groove system which allows the sides and pieces to slide in a maze-like configuration.  Some are incredibly complex, requiring a mind boggling number of moves to open, such as his 3546 move box.  Some tell a story as they open.  When providing the solution to his puzzles, Kim originally would indicate the sequence of moves by piece number, with many numbers repeating over and over.  He developed the idea to assign letters to each piece instead, and then went further to design the puzzles so the letters would actually spell out a phrase in sequence based on the order of the moves needed – a “solution phrase”.  These phrases then became the name of each puzzle.  He has designed these for friends, or couples, based on their names, as well as for other specific phrases.  For example, he once created a puzzle called “antidisestablishmentarianism” which required 28 moves to open – one for each letter in the phrase.  Pieces are assigned two different letters each, indicating the back and forth direction of the piece’s movement.  

In case of emergency, break glass ...

He also appears to have a fondness for The Lord of the Rings, as do I.  His “One Ring Box” has now fallen into my hands, and I find it to be … precious.   Crafted from ziricote, maple, kingwood, canary wood, jatoba, black limba, and brass inlay with gaboon ebony, the box is stunning and elegant.  It has a lustrous shine and polish and emits a dangerous calling which lures the feeble minded.  If you heed the call, and deduce the solution phrase, you will eventually be met with a tantalizing view of the One Ring, faintly inscribed with its nefarious message: “One ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.”  The ring sits protected behind glass, still unreachable.  Continue the solution and find a way to release the ring from its protection – or is it you who needs protecting?
Isildur's Bane ...

“It's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish.” – J. R.R.Tolkien

Luckily we have started, and just need one more item to complete this celebration – a special cocktail, of course.  Don’t doubt for a moment that there are more Lord of the Rings cocktail creations out there to choose from than you could ever drink – maybe a hobbit could, but now is the age of men and women.  Perhaps a pint of Barlimans Best ale, a barrel of Lake-town’s finest wine or a flagon of Dwarvish mead might hit the spot?  I’ve put together something slightly more sinister and integrally linked to the One Ring, based on the classic Americano cocktail.  In the late 1800’s in Milan, Gaspare Campari, the creator of the celebrated vibrant Italian aperitif, served a combination of his namesake Campari with sweet vermouth from Torino.  The “Milano-Torino” cocktail was such a huge hit with American tourists that in the 1920’s the drink was renamed the “Americano”.  James Bond even ordered one in his debut Casino Royale, before a different drink took his fancy. I’ve created a special version using a saffron-infused Cocchi Aperitivo Americano (a fortified Moscato wine flavored with cinchona, citrus, spices and botanicals) and a saffron-infused ice sphere for extra effect.  The resulting “Eye of Saffron” cocktail, reminiscent of the Eye of Sauron, might just lure you in, too – you won’t be able to take your eye off it until it consumes your soul.  Or you consume it, one of those, anyway.

Americano with a saffron-infused vermouth

100 boxes and 100 cocktails - it’s a satisfying milestone.  I am thankful for everyone who has taken the time to read my writings. I’m afraid there’s plenty more to go, so perhaps you will stay with me on the continued journey forward.  I hope so!  In fellowship and friendship, this One’s for you.  Cheers.

“Home is behind, the world ahead,
and there are many paths to tread
through shadows to the edge of night,
until the stars are all alight.”
- J.R.R.Tolkien

The Eye of Saffron

The Eye of Saffron

1 ½ oz Campari
1 ½ oz saffron-infused Cocchi Americano
Club soda
Saffron ice ball

Combine the Campari and Cocchi in a mixing glass and stir well with ice. Strain into a glass containing the special ice ball, top with club soda and enjoy.  Ring of power optional.

Tolkiens of my affection

For more about Kim Klobucher’s KCubes:

For prior Campari cocktails see: 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Playing with Fire

Things are really heating up at Boxes and Booze headquarters.  The kindling is ready, the wood and whiskey set out.  Yes, it’s getting warmer here in Houston, but the rain has been putting a damper on that. Looks like we’ll need something to help get it all started … does anyone have a match?

Stickman No. 29 (Matchbox)

Ahhh, I found one.  Here’s a beautiful little matchbook which should help.  It looks like it’s been crafted from gorgeous exotic hardwoods, including redheart, yellowheart, wenge and maple. The matchsticks tucked away inside are also very pretty, painstakingly carved from purpleheart , walnut and maple.  There seems to be another compartment, secretly hidden away inside, but it’s so tricky to access.  A few parts of the matchbox move and slide, sometimes, and sometimes they don’t …. I wish I knew what was going on here, it’s all very tricky and I just need a match.

Exquisite detail and a baffling secret

The Stickman Matchbox (No.29) is a really lovely creation by Robert Yarger, the puzzle box artisan and master woodworker from Edmond, Oklahoma.  The interplay between the sliding components in the box has an irregular and odd logic and determining the proper sequence of moves is anything but easy.  To create this logic Robert needed an irregularly shaped internal component which would have been difficult, fragile and expensive or impossible to manufacture from wood.  For the first time in one of his designs he used a 3D printed plastic part for this instead, which hides inside and is never seen.  At one time he felt that 3D printing for complex internal parts might open up a world of new possibilities and allow the incredible ideas in his mind to become reality. The matchbox would be just the spark of flame which would get it all ignited.  This may be an idea ahead of its time right now, but time will tell, as it always does.

Tinder Box by Chris Frankel

The fire is getting started thanks to the wood … perhaps we should add a little whiskey now to stoke the flames higher.  A well matched cocktail conflagration is this classically styled whiskey stunner from Houston’s Chris Frankel, who created it for Spare Key, his bartender’s choice little gem which showcased his creative talents during its brief but brilliant lifespan in midtown.  Named for a private joke about the social media dating app, his “Tinder Box” proved immensely popular at his bar.  Combining bourbon, Bual Madeira, Pimm’s #1, maraschino liqueur and orange biters, the Tinder Box is a seriously savory sipper which might just light your fire. Here’s to fanning the flames of inspiration.  Cheers!

Go on, swipe right ...

Tinder Box by Chris Frankel
1 ½  oz bourbon
¼ oz maraschino liqueur
¾ oz Bual Madeira
½ oz Pimm’s #1
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a lemon peel and get the fire started.

A match made in Houston

Fire and love different as night is to day
But none the less….
Both consume and may warm a being
Or leave one with nothing but ashes   
 -  Patricia Gale

For more information about Robert Yarger:

For prior puzzles by Robert Yarger:

For other cocktails by Chris Frankel see:
Key Secrets (with a tribute to Randal Gatewood)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Inside Out

I’m feeling very close to everyone lately, so I’m going to really open up.  You might even say I’m going to turn my insides out to you.  I’ve written a lot about traditional Japanese puzzle boxes, and their typical opening movements.  Traditional Japanese puzzle boxes have sliding panels on the sides which are manipulated in sequence to open the top.  Some boxes also have “kuniki”, or embedded sliding bars within the side panels as well.  Imagine if all of these typical mechanisms were somehow inverted and placed inside, rather than outside, the box…. 

Byways Secret 3 by Hiroshi Iwahara

One of the most prolific and creative modern puzzle box artists from the Karakuri Creation Group, Hiroshi Iwahara, decided he would turn the tradition inside out with his “Byways Secret” box set.  I’ve also written about traditional Japanese marquetry and the technique of creating paper thin veneers by planing blocks of multicolored wood arranged into geometric shapes, known as yosegi.  The technique and tradition from the Hakone region of Japan goes back a thousand years.  The distinctive artwork can be seen covering all manner of wooden hand crafts from Japan, including traditional puzzle boxes.  Not satisfied to stop after merely turning the traditional puzzle box mechanisms inside out, Iwahara (whose name literally translates as “rock field”) decided to include the decorative element as well in his third Byways Box. On the outside, the box appears plain, with no detail at all. But the inside of the box is another story.  Exquisite yosegi work lines the inner chambers.  It is truly, incredibly, inside-out, and marks the culmination of the artist’s ideas about this concept, including a complex series of 21 inside-out steps needed to access the second secret chamber. 

This box is inside-out!

Although they are known as the “byways” boxes, the name is likely imperfectly translated. The Japanese character “ura” translates roughly as “back” – as in “backwards” box, which may be closer to the intended name in Japanese.   Iwahara also suggested an alternate name for the third box in the set, which he called the “wrong side secret”.  However they are named, these unconventional boxes secretly turn tradition inside-out.

The Inside Job by Jared Schubert

I’ve selected an apropos cocktail to toast these clever creations.  The “Inside Job” is a bold bourbon sipper which was created to promote Heaven Hill Brands Larceny Bourbon by Louisville mixologist Jared Schubert.  Playing off the Old Fashioned and the Sazerac classics, the Inside Job adds maraschino (cherry) liqueur to the mix.  As in an Old Fashioned, the bourbon is sweetened with a bit of sugar and in this case, the cherry liqueur lends a new layer of flavor. The touch of absinthe also gives just a hint of extra complexity to the drink, as with a Sazerac.  It’s an elegant, spirit forward and bold cocktail with a nice balance. Enjoy it neat or with a large chunk of ice to chill it – or perhaps we should turn things inside-out?  I’ve inverted the format in homage to the backwards secret box, and placed the cocktail inside the ice – in this case, a hollowed out ice sphere.  I think this is the way the Inside Job was always meant to be served.  Here’s to turning tradition inside-out, flipping the script, and beholding the beauty on the inside.  Cheers!

Something good on the inside

The Inside Job

2 oz bourbon (originally Larceny)
¼ oz maraschino liqueur
½ oz simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash absinthe

Stir together with ice and strain into a favorite glass (or turn things inside out!). Garnish with orange and a brandied cherry.

This set is inside-out!

For more information about Hiroshi Iwahara:

For prior Iwahara puzzles see: