Saturday, July 28, 2018

Cabinet of Wonders

And now for something a little different than usual, and more than a little unique.  This might take some time, so sit back and enjoy it.  Typically my references to “boxes” and “booze” relate to a secret opening box which is paired with a cocktail.  Occasionally, the puzzle box also has some drink related theme to it, (such as Kamei’s Whiskey Bottle, or Kakuda’s SpringNight) making it an ultimate boxes and booze box.  And some bottles of booze (usually of the fancier variety) actually come inside a wooden box, making them a box of booze.  If we scale that idea up exponentially, we might consider the entire liquor cabinet to be a giant box of booze. 

it's such an ... escutcheon

A few months ago, if you happened to be visiting headquarters and the spirit moved you, you would find yourself steered toward a beautiful old armoire style cabinet which was painted black and had decorative white flowers and a see through mesh which revealed a few choice bottles.  You would probably not notice, as you marveled at the heavy contents, that it all rested on two delicately turned tapered feet. Over the years and many, many moves, these feet had each broken off, and eventually refused to stay glued on anymore.  The cabinet was literally resting (dare I say “teetering”?) on these precarious pegs, which fit flush so that it was not at all obvious they were not truly connected.  Of course, the obvious thing to do would be to fill such a cabinet full to bursting with heavy bottles of alcohol and fragile crystal stemware.  Especially if one couldn’t be bothered to recall the state of affairs of the construction of said cabinet. 

One for old times sake

Such a nice cabinet.  A few months ago, you would have seen it.  Up until the day it came crashing down, sending scores of crystal glasses, vases, shelving and bottles smashing down onto the hardwood floors and sending my poor wife into shock.  I came home, imagining a biblical flood of booze running through my dining room, but was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the bottles had survived, although all of the glassware was gone.  After the epic cleanup I made a brandy smash to commemorate the occasion.  That was it for the old cabinet – we had one last laugh watching a man who volunteered to take it away hoist it handily onto the top of his little car.

Brandy smash

If you visit now, you will find an even larger, very, very sturdy oak cabinet, filled entirely with bottles.  The (remaining) glassware has been moved elsewhere.  It’s a very handsome cabinet, which rests squarely on the floor (no feet this time), although it had one minor flaw.  No lock.  A lock might seem counterproductive, depending on your point of view, but with teenagers about, it’s at least a deterrent and the responsible thing to do.  I had to install a lock.  So of course, the rational approach was to make this project as complicated as possible.  Short of a true puzzle liquor cabinet, with a secret opening door and hidden internal compartments for the dusty bottles (a guy can dream, can’t he?), the next best thing would be to install a trick lock.  Obviously.  I contacted my certified master locksmith, an English fellow named Shane Hales, and described the problem.  Over the course of a few weeks of back and forth, he had come up with an idea, and a little while later I was in possession of a custom Haleslock cabinet lock. 

Haleslock Cabinet Lock 1

Shane had found an antique Chubb cabinet lock complete with a set of keys.  Chubb is a rather famous English lock maker and I’m sure Shane is fond of these old locks.  The story goes that in 1817, counterfeit keys were used to break into the Portsmouth Dockyards, and in response the British government issued a competition, the ground breaking idea to design a lock which could only be opened with its own key! It seems hard to believe this was not always the case.  Jeremiah Chubb won the competition (for 100 Guineas) and patented his “Detector Lock” in 1818, notable for being impossible to pick and only opening with its dedicated key.  It would also “detect” any attempt at being picked by raising an alert lever should this occur and locking it into place.  

Vintage Chubb

The cabinet lock which Shane modified for my liquor cabinet is thankfully not one of these old treasures, which would be a shame to modify.  It’s more modern, produced after 1937 when the company stopped stamping serial numbers on the locks, but still vintage, and he has turned it into a modern treasure.  It’s a brass mortise cabinet lock with a dedicated notched key, and as you might have deduced, turning the key in the lock does not produce the desired effect of unlocking the bolt.  There are a few rather clever tricks he has introduced to keep out thirsty bandits, made even more obscure once the lock was embedded inside the cabinet door.

More than just his signature has been added ...

Installing the lock into the cabinet required finding a carpenter with the routing skills and interest in making it work.  But ultimately the Haleslock Cabinet Lock came to life and is now a unique part of the Boxes and Booze repository (aka liquor cabinet).  Should any liquor liquidators or beverage bandits be so brash as to purloin the proper key, it will appear that this old lock is broken, stuck, and simply won’t give up the goods.  Just in case you are worrying that said progeny (I mean, burglars) are as clever as ol’ Dad, and given enough time might simply solve the baffling bolt, fear not.  There is also a hidden electromagnetic lock I installed which requires a radiofrequency keycard.  Obviously.

The Locksmith

Shane admits that he will drink most anything, but given a choice it might steer toward a nice whiskey.  I’ve made him a truly special drink for the occasion, which features another surprising and unique element worthy of his one of a kind cabinet lock.  The drink is a variation of the Old Fashioned, in homage to the vintage lock.  This one uses a fine single malt Scotch, although a nice bourbon will work just as well, and an Earl Grey tea syrup for a little sweetness.  Shane is an Englishman, after all.  But the bitters, an essential component of any great Old fashioned, are what really make this particular drink special.  

Stickman Bitters No.1

Stickman Bitters, No.1, the real star of this drink, were created by none other than the Renaissance man himself, Robert Yarger.  Rob dabbles in all things homemade, including distilling his own gin.  He has an extensive garden full of aromatics, botanicals and herbs, a workshop full of wood, a rudimentary chemistry set up and he’s a bit of a mad scientist.  It’s the perfect combination for making bitters.  

A good old fashioned drink

Bitters have been a staple in cocktails since the cocktail was invented, and in fact likely led to the invention of cocktails.  They were originally developed by pharmacists in the 1800’s as cure-alls and elixirs to calm a queasy belly, made with proprietary formulas of herbs, flowers, fruit peels, roots and plant bark infused in alcohol and usually including a bitter flavoring agent.  Patrons would have a dose as is, or more likely mixed with water.  Perhaps they were so bitter that some sugar would be added, and what the heck, a dram of proper booze as well for good measure. Viola, a cocktail was born.  This is, pure and simple, the recipe for an Old Fashioned.  I’ve discussed bitters many times before, such as with the Stickman ApothecaryChest, and also with the absurd and obscene true origin tale of the term “cocktail”.

Nothing puzzling about it - these bitters are incredible

For Stickman Bitters No. 1, Rob blended the many tinctures he had created from his garden (and woodshop) until he hit on the perfect balance, merging the complimentary top, middle and base flavors in the final bitters together.  His own blend of Stickman gin, which itself contains about twelve different botanical, spice and plant ingredients, serves as the complex backdrop for the bitters, into which he infused flavors from about fourteen further spices, roots, plants, flowers, fruits and even wood.  The amazingly complex proprietary secret formula is locked away inside one of his most challenging puzzle boxes, one that can only be opened from the inside.  Okay, I made that last part up but you have to create mythology around these kind of things, right?  The final product is a potent, spiced, citrusy experience with layers of interesting flavors that evolve on the palate.   These bitters are fantastic in an Old Fashioned and add an incredibly special highlight to this toast.  Here’s to making things more complicated than they could have been, more interesting than they would have been, and as perfect as they should have been.  Thank you Shane and Rob – Cheers!

A toast to the craftsmen

The Locksmith

2 oz whiskey
¼ oz Earl Grey tea syrup (or simply soak a turbinado sugar cube with the tea)
2 dashes Stickman Bitters No. 1 (or substitute Angostura aromatic bitters if you have run out of SB)

Stir together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a citrus peel.

For more about Shane Hales:

For more about Robert Yarger:
Favorite Things
Doing a Good Ternary

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely wonderful Steve. I’ve been looking forward to reading this, and being paired with my friend Robert (again) has just made my day sir!! You are very very welcome. I hope you think of me everytime you now have to solve that lock to get to the booze :-) Shane