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: 

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