Saturday, October 5, 2019

Shaving the Goat


The road to a friend’s house is never long – Danish proverb

Caged Block Box by Bill Sheckels

It’s been too long since I’ve featured something from the workshop of Danish furniture maker Bill Sheckels, and I’d like to correct that now. Bill makes beautiful furniture in the Scandinavian and Shaker influenced style, ascribing to the moto that form follows function. He also likes puzzles, and has a successful puzzle shop called Black Dog Puzzle Works where he offers his hand-made challenges in elegant hardwoods. His favored type of puzzle is the interlocking burr, and he makes many different types which range in complexity. He has also made disassembly puzzles, including his well-known caged coin puzzle, which was exchanged at the thirty-second international puzzle party and caused many to be “caught with their beard in the letterbox”.*

Figured Walnut and Ash

But of course I’m most partial to Bill’s puzzle boxes, which he makes in limited quantities, on occasion. His Book puzzle boxes, the original of which I reviewed way back when, are absolutely lovely. He is still making the second generation version, which has a completely different and more complex solution, which I also highly recommend. These book boxes are much more like traditional puzzle boxes, where the process of opening the box is integrated into the solution and the entire item is the puzzle. This contrasts with a few other types of puzzle boxes that Bill has created, in which he forms a hybrid of his burr and disassembly styles with a puzzle box element. His Sandwich Box is a perfect example of this, in which a central box is trapped within a set of interlocked burr sticks and a very tricky secret must be discovered to access the compartment.

The name really says it all ...

Like the Sandwich Box, the Caged Block Box is a hybrid puzzle with a tricky secret. Bill makes a smaller version called the Caged Block Puzzle, which is an identical puzzle in which the trapped cube is just a cube and does not open. In the larger “box” version, once released, the cube can be opened to reveal a large storage space for all your Danish goodies. Crafted in beautiful figured Walnut, the box is surrounded by eight interlocked Ash sticks which appear to have no possible way to unlock. Solve the puzzle, disassemble the burr puzzle, open the box, and you’ll be able to say, like they do in Denmark, “Now that goat is shaved”.*

The Trident by Robert Hess

To the good listener, half a word is enough – Danish proverb

I’ll raise a glass of Scandinavian spirit to toast this elegant box – something with aquavit. It affords a perfect opportunity to discuss another great classic cocktail from one of the original troubadours of the cocktail renaissance, Robert Hess. Founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail and DrinkBoy, Hess was a lay superfan in the Nineties who befriended and educated the bartenders of the day. He became a personality in his own right and is credited with a few modern classic cocktails of his own design.

Aquavit is a wonderful spirit to try this season

Hess says he invented the “Trident” cocktail while experimenting with some newly released peach bitters. He built a nautical variation on the classic Negroni, substituting the base spirit gin with herbaceous Scandinavian aquavit, the vermouth with nutty sherry, and the Campari with the vegetal Cynar. Each ingredient hails from a seafaring region. He pulled all the flavors together with a few dashes of peach bitters. I was fresh out of peach bitters, so rinsed the glass with peach liqueur and used orange bitters, which lent the desired hint of flavor and fragrance nicely. On paper, the drink sounds odd, perhaps even disastrous. But just like another one of his famous classics, the Mahogany, it comes together beautifully. The drink was quite popular in Hess’s hometown of Seattle where it remained on extended rotation at the Zig Zag Café for years. And thanks to its well-balanced nature using lower ABV spirits, you’re less likely to have a “stick in the ear*” after a few. Skål!

Scandinavian surprises

The Trident by Robert Hess

1 oz dry sherry
1 oz Cynar
1 oz aquavit
2 dashes peach bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with a lemon twist (or trident) and enjoy while reciting your favorite Danish idiom.

For more about Bill Sheckels:

For Robert Hess’s Mahogany cocktail:

*N.B. Guide to Danish idioms:
“caught with the beard in the letterbox” – find oneself in a problematic situation
 “now that goat is shaved” – the work is done, the problem solved
 “stick in the ear” - drunk

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