Saturday, May 27, 2017

Here's To Good Ole' College

A toast this week to my alma mater and the class of 1992 who are gathering back on campus for our twenty-fifth year reunion.  Haverford College is a special place set in the beatific landscape of the Philadelphia suburbs on a unique arboretum campus.  Founded in 1833 by Quakers who wished to provide education equaled by respect, tolerance, and attention to the whole human experience, Haverford is now a highly regarded non-sectarian co-ed liberal arts college. Amidst the four hundred plus species of trees and shrubs, students embrace academic and artistic achievements under the umbrella of the honor code, which was originally written by students, remains governed by students, and guides the lives of all in the pursuit of mutual respect and trust.  Decisions on campus are made by consensus, not majority, a process which has left an indelible mark on all who are fortunate enough to have participated in it. 

Haverford Harmony

To my classmates who are new to Boxes and Booze, the premise is simple.  A puzzle box is paired with a cocktail and each is described in some detail.  Why is this fascinating and worth your time?  A puzzle box is a metaphor for life itself, and for all of our searches for meaning and solutions.  Each one is unique, and beautiful, and different, each with a story to tell.  Some are simple, some complex, some have never been opened, some are damaged, some stuck.  Some are so familiar and we know just how to move them.  And some we simply marvel at and admire the way they work.  Cocktails, meanwhile, can tell us where we’ve been, and maybe where we are going.  The history of the world is written in spirits, after all, and they are how we mark life’s journeys when we raise our glass.  So here’s to boxes and booze, a celebration of ourselves.

Acorn Box by Hiroshi Iwahara

For the Haverford reunion, I selected a box which symbolizes a few things uniquely Haverfordian.  The acorn box, by Japanese artist Hiroshi Iwahara of the Karakuri Creation Group, is a simple affair, unassuming with a little wooden acorn adorning the top.  Simple in appearance and with only one secret move required to open, it embraces the Quaker philosophy of simplicity.  The Friends, as Quakers are known colloquially, try to uphold the expression “live simply, so others may simply live” in their daily lives.  Their tenets include pacifism, social equality, stewardship of the planet and integrity.  The acorn box is crafted of wood from oak, ginkgo, katsura, enjyu, and pao rosa trees – a few of which have representation on Haverford’s arboretum campus.  Finally the acorn is symbolic of Haverford’s beloved mascot, the black squirrel.  These unusually pigmented animals have the run of the grounds and enjoy an impassioned fan club.

The Bitter Ford

For the booze I teamed up with former suite – mates Jason Goldstein and Michael Haley Goldman to create the unofficial class of 1992 reunion cocktails. The first is a variation on the Negroni, that incredible, classic cocktail of which I am so fond.  It’s just in time for Negroni Week, too (June 5-11).  We present the “Bitter Ford”, a toast to alums not coming to the reunion.  It’s bitter, of course, thanks to the Campari, but tempered by the Luxardo liqueur evoking the sweet memory of campus life and the illusion that the honor code existed in real life. 

Founder's Green

If you’re not feeling it, though, have something much more classic, and head back to 1833 where it all started, on the steps of Founder’s Hall (the only building that existed back then).  Stretch out on the grass and recall a time when you were still impressionable, had dreams, had undyed hair (or hair at all), and maybe hadn’t figured it all out just yet. Of course this drink has to be an Old Fashioned, with a little nuance to make it special.  From Michael: “Remember that feeling of warm sunshine on Founder’s green, when you were supposed to be in Organic Chem (insert most daunting class from your major here)? And then when you get to class (late) and feel like Professor Wintner has smashed your brain with the hammer in his left hand while wiping your memory of all useful information with the wire brush in his right hand? This drink gives you all those feeling in one glass.”  Sip the “Founder’s Green” while you recall those fond days and don’t despair – your kids can go to Haverford and relive it all for you.  Here’s to the class of ’92, may you all be happy, healthy and loved.  Cheers!

Cheers, Friends

The Bitter Ford:

1 oz Ford’s Gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Maraschino liqueur

Stir together with ice and strain into a favorite glass (or plastic party cup). Garnish with bitter romantic failures of freshman year.

Founder’s Green

2 oz bourbon
½ oz Green Chartreuse
¼ oz maple syrup

Stir together with ice and strain into a favorite glass over unrelenting dreams of being unprepared for finals.

For more about Haverford College:

For more about Hiroshi Iwahara:

For the Haverford College cocktail:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Call Me Old Fashioned

Happy World Whisky Day!  This holiday really takes me back.  All the way to Babylon and Mesopotamia in 2000 BC! Evidence of fermented, distilled grain (whisky!) exists from archaeological sites in the middle east dating all the way back to those ancient times.  There’s a rich history which follows, but let’s fast forward three thousand years to about 1000 AD when Irish and Scottish monks began to ferment grain mash and introduced what we know today as “modern” whisky – and gave us the name we now use as well.  

Whisky Bottle by Akio Kamei

It's no wonder some experience “whisky” as a holy experience, considering the name is derived from the Gaelic (the Celtic language spoken in the Scottish Highlands) “uisge beatha” – the “water of life”.  Drink enough of that water and it’ll kill you.  Ironies aside, a thousand years ago getting drunk might have been as close to heaven on earth as you got. Early American pioneers brought the water with them and adopted the Irish spelling, with an “e”: whiskey.  In the mid nineteenth century, a corn whiskey using the Kentucky style of fermentation and distillation was first labeled “Bourbon whiskey”.  Some suggest this American term came from New Orleans, where Bourbon Street was the place to get your whiskey fix – but the street might well have been named for the spirit, like the chicken and the egg.

Keeping its secrets bottled up

What better puzzle to celebrate World Whisky Day than Akio Kamei’s Whisky Bottle.  One of his earlier creations, the Whisky Bottle doesn’t need much in the way of explanation.  It’s a wooden bottle, of course, and hides two secret compartments.  The first should not be hard to find, but the second is trickier and requires some thinking outside the bottle.  This is classic Kamei in the way he creates puzzles which challenge your basic assumptions.  It’s also a gloriously perfect Boxes and Booze puzzle box, and of course I love it.  Let’s have a whisky cocktail, shall we?

The Old Fashioned c. 1800

For this old fashioned spirit we will have an Old Fashioned cocktail.  I’ve discussed this one before a few times, but here’s the original, in its purest original form, and how it got there.  Cocktails in general evolved from the medicinal tonics created by old time pharmacists and known in general as “bitters”. These were the miracle elixirs which would work wonders.  You could stop by for a shot of these herbal, bitter concoctions, perhaps diluted with some water to make them more palatable.  Add a little sugar, more palatable.  It didn’t take long for someone to throw in a bit of spirit too, and viola, the first cocktail was likely consumed in America sometime in the very early 1800s, as the precursor to the “Old Fashioned”. 

Never handle another man's muddler (or go right ahead, whatever you prefer)

While the cocktail is arguably an American invention, its origins existed a century earlier in England. The concept of the cocktail was present in London in the early 1700’s already, where bitter elixirs where being mixed with sweet wine or brandy.  And the name, “cocktail” was likely derived from Britain as well.  The cocktail historian David Wondrich, who has searched for the term’s provenance for decades, explains this bit of wacky parlance, which was discovered in a satirical political cartoon from a 1798 London newspaper.  Cocktail was slang for “ginger”, which in turn referred to a stimulant added to a drink in order to lift ones spirit and energy.  Ginger or hot pepper usually did the trick.  The term “cocktail” came from the practice, by horse dealers of the day, to place a bit of ginger up the horse’s rear, thus making it cock its tail and appear spirited, which made it appear more valuable.  Drink recipes adapted the term, suggesting the addition of a pinch or two of “cock-tail”, and that term replaced “ginger” over time.  And there you have it, the too absurd to not be true story of why we call it a “cocktail.”  Cheers?

These two are quite old fashioned

The Old Fashioned

2 oz of your favorite whisk(e)y
1 brown sugar cube
Angostura bitters

Place the sugar cube into a mixing glass and saturate with the bitters.  Muddle together, then add the whiskey and ice. Stir to dilute and chill, then strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a brandied cherry, an orange wedge, or just keep it plain and simple.

For prior Old Fashioned variations see:

For more about Akio Kamei see:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Pillows and Potions

Boxes and Booze is on the road, traveling a bit over the next few weeks.  It seems like a good time to bring out my travel pillow.  This one is from Kyoko Hoshino, one of the very few women crafting puzzle boxes today.  She is a current member of the Karakuri Creation Group from Japan.  She learned the art of kimono making early in her career and applies that skill to her woodworking now - her boxes are unique in their use of cloth and adornments.  Of course she would make a pillow box.

Travel Pillow by Kyoko Hoshino

Wood, leather and ceramic pillows were used throughout the ages in Asia and other regions to support the head and neck.  The geishas of Japan slept on “makura” which supported the neck and kept their elaborate hairstyles intact, for example.  These neck pillows do not appear to have been very comfortable, but I’ve been told that beauty and comfort do not usually go together.  Wooden pillow boxes were commonly used to store valuables as well, kept safely under head at night.  In the Edo period, Japanese travelers and merchants would use similar wooden pillow boxes to store traveling items such as a mirror, an abacus, and even a lantern, with additional secret spaces for documents or money.  These became the impetus for the original puzzle boxes which came out of the Odawara region in Japan over a hundred years ago, the current home of the Karakuri Creation Group.  Hoshino’s lovely recreation is a simpler affair and a bit too small to rest your head upon, but it does include two separate secret chambers and a wonderfully soft velvety top cushion – surely a luxury not seen often in the ancient days.

All the comforts of home while on the road

Let’s sip on something sleepy and equally luxuriant to compliment this travel pillow.  This one comes via star mixologist Joaquin Simo, one of the original bartenders from New York’s innovative Death & Company who has done his share of traveling, including to receive the Best American Bartender of the Year award at Tales of the Cocktail in 2012.   I’ve featured his creations before, including the iconic “Naked and Famous”.  

Pillow Talk by Joaquin Simo

Here, in his “Pillow Talk”, he serves up a complex variation on the Sloe Gin Fizz, another classic I have featured before.  In this version, fresh grapefruit adds a sweet zing and the unique Crème Yvette layers a subtle scent of lavender into the mix.  Cue the jazz, dim the lights, and get cozy.  Cheers!

These pillows can keep a secret

Pillow Talk by Joaquin Simo, Death & Co.

1.5 ounces Beefeater 24 Gin
.25 ounce Plymouth Sloe Gin
.25 ounce Crème Yvette
.75 ounce Grapefruit Juice
.5 teaspoon Vanilla Syrup
Sparkling Rosé

Shake together with ice and strain into a champagne flute. Top with the sparkling wine and whisper sweet nothings all night long.

For more about Kyoko Hoshino see:

For the Naked and Famous cocktail:

For the Sloe Gin Fizz:

Saturday, May 6, 2017


I’m reducing the size of this installment of Boxes and Booze, yet keeping all the content.   Things appear to start out as usual, but by the end get edited down to the essence.  It’s like my college English professor used to say - I’m “cutting the dross”.  I’m particularly fond of the Karakuri Creation Group, as you likely surmised by now.  Let’s call them the “KCG” for brevity.  They like to push the envelope on possibilities for a puzzle box.  

Shrinking Box by Hiroshi Iwahara and Tatsuo Miyamoto

Many years ago they produced a set called the “Creative Secret Box” series which explored highly unusual and novel opening mechanisms. Number five in the series, the “Shrinking Box”, expands the concept, by minimizing it.  The idea of a box which needs to literally shrink in order to open is simply fascinating to me, and apparently to Hiroshi Iwahara, who designed it, and Tatsuo Miyamoto, who crafted it, as well.  Iwahara suggested that this was the limit of “negative space” for him at the time, but kept the possibility open for a future expansion of the contraction.

You need to think inside the box ...

The idea of the shrinking space void which then opens is too reminiscent of worm holes, black holes and science fiction in general to be ignored.  Let’s ponder these mysteries at an uber cool bar built for cocktail geeks known as Jupiter Disco in Brooklyn, New York.  The brainy love child of Maks Pazuniak and Al Sotack, the layout was designed with the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars and the Blade Runner bar in mind.  

Negative Space by Maks Pazuniak

Here’s the “Negative Space” cocktail, sure to mess with your gravity.  It’s a mix of floral French Suze aperitif, lemon juice, licorice and, of course, chocolate, wrapped up with a sparkle.  It might cause you to go interstellar.  Enjoy it as you watch the volume in your glass magically shrink.  Cheers.

These two fill a void

Negative Space by Maks Pazuniak

½ oz. Suze aperitif
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. crème de cacao
¼ oz. absinthe blanc
1 drop orange flower water
3 oz. chilled prosecco

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a tall glass.  Top with the prosecco and garnish with a Jupiter Disco Ball.

For more about the KCG:
For a prior Creative Secret Box: