Saturday, May 5, 2018


We’re coming to you live and on location from Churchill Downs this week as Boxes and Booze makes a run for the roses!  Okay, fine, I’m not actually in Louisville, Kentucky to watch the “most exciting two minutes in sports” in person, but I’m celebrating the longest continually held sporting event in America with a special offering fit for the Kentucky Derby. 

Kuchinashi (Gardenia) by Shiro Tajima

We start with a game even older than the Kentucky Derby.  Shogi, often referred to as “Japanese Chess”, dates from over five hundred years ago, around the same time that Western chess was invented.  Shogi literally translates as “Game of Generals” and the playing pieces are very similar to chess.  The strategy is somewhat different, and captured enemy pieces can be returned to the board for the captor’s use.  One of the playing pieces (koma), the knight, sets the theme for this Derby worthy puzzle box.  Shiro Tajima’s Kuchinashi doesn’t immediately remind one of a horse, although he created it for the Year of the Horse in his zodiac box series.  The puzzle is a small Shogi game board, and the koma playing piece provided has the knight kanji on it, which represents a horse, as typically depicted in Western chess.  This knight moves in the same manner as a chess knight, which is important.  

Traditional flower bulb legs support the Shogi board

The name of the puzzle, Kuchinashi (Gardenia), refers to the flower bulb shaped legs of the traditional Shogi board which were popularized during the Edo period.  These have been expertly recreated by Tajima on this puzzle.  It is also a play on words, as “kuchinashi” also means “no mouth”, which reminds those watching the game to keep quiet and not interfere with the players.  Tajima refers to this common courtesy in his description of the puzzle.  A well played game of Shogi will take well over two minutes – this is no horse race of speed but rather a steady journey of cunning and intellect.  Solving this beautiful puzzle box may take a while, too!

Champagne Mint Julep

Which calls for a drink, don’t you think?  And what is more appropriate for the Kentucky Derby than the classic whiskey drink which is practically synonymous with the race, the Mint Julep.  The Derby didn’t lay claim to this tasty tipple until 1938, however; it came to Kentucky by way of Virginia where it was, apparently, a healthy way to start the day!  A description from 1803 explains the drink as a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning."  But the true origins of the drink lay far beyond Virginia.  The word julep stems from the Persian gulab, or julab in classic Arabic, which was a drink made with sweetened rose petals rather than mint. The classic pewter cup filled with crushed ice in which the julep is served helps retain the chill and forms a nice frost on it, perfect for sipping in the warm sun on Derby day.

Festive bubbles improve everything!

A truly fun and festive spin on the classic mint julep, which traditionally features bourbon, mint, sugar and ice, is the addition of some bubbly!  It really makes the drink pop and is a sure crowd pleaser.  There are many versions of this twist, such as the delicious Sparkling Julep available at Houston’s award winning bar of the same name, Julep. Their version features Cognac, Sparkling Rosé of Gamay, Turbinado, and Mint.  Next time you’re in Houston, do yourself a favor and enjoy one.  In Portland, Oregon, bartender Ryan Murphy takes a more classic approach with a high-proof bourbon, mint and simple syrup, to which he adds Champagne on top and some Angostura bitters.  I took my inspiration from his version, and used a delicious new product for the bubbles.  Ducourt Estates has brought back to life a wonderful aperitif popular in Parisian cafes in the fifties, based on Rose wine from Entre-Deux-Mers.  The wine is infused with fruits and citrus and finished with carbonation to create their Le Gout d'Autrefois Rosé Limé, which is delightful on its own for your summer picnics, and shines in this mint julep.  Add some sparkle to your own run for the roses this year, or whatever kind of horsing around you get up to.  Cheers!

A pair of prancing ponies

Champagne Julep

½ oz high-proof bourbon
½ oz simple syrup
6-8 fresh mint leaves
3 oz sparkling wine

Muddle the mint with the simple syrup in the bottom of the julep cup.  Add the bourbon, bitters and wine, and top with crushed ice.  Garnish with more bitters, mint, and powdered sugar if you like.

For more about Shiro Tajima see:
Monkey Business
Pooh Corner
Here There Be Dragons

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