Honey Fig Redemption
1.5 oz Rye
0.75 oz Honey-Mint Syrup
0.5 oz Lemon Juice
2 tsp Fig Puree
0.5 oz Red Wine (Shiraz)
Add rye, syrup, juice, and puree to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and double strain (through a fine mesh sieve) into a coupe
Float red wine on top
See below for Fig Puree and Honey Mint Syrup recipes.
Featured glass: New Cottage Amber Saucer Champagne by Villeroy & Boch
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Here’s how the scenario typically goes: Cocktail blogger steps up to a bar, sizes up the joint and the bartender, and proceeds to order the most esoteric libation imaginable. The goal, you see, is not to enjoy the final drink placed before said blogger, of course, but to belittle the bartender as much as humanly possible – to make him or her jump through hoops and then scoff at the end result. It’s not pretty – it’s certainly not polite – but it can be the modus operandi when a mixographer tells a bartender how to make a drink. Fortunately, this story has a different beginning.
As I recounted in our last post on the Watermelon Cooler, Lesley, the lad, and I recently enjoyed a weekend respite in the sunny (but not boiling hot) beach community of Ventura, CA and, while there, we had the good sense to look up our friend Tim Kilcoyne, chef-owner of The SideCar Restaurant. Dinner at The SideCar is always the highlight of a trip over to the coast, but this visit introduced a new honor/challenge. As we waited for our first courses and wrangled the boy, the bartender came up to me with a request, “I’m trying to create a drink which highlights our figs, and Tim thought you might be able to help.” Suddenly, my MacGyver moment had arrived – rather than impolitely foisting myself on the staff, I was being summoned. How could I refuse?
Figs, especially the Black Mission variety we used here, are a bit of a conundrum. They are, at once, uniquely singular in profile yet terribly elusive when you apply them to a drink. As with any fresh ingredient, you really want them to shine, especially when combined with spirit, ice, and whatnot. But the delicate nature of the fig makes it a bit hard to pin down. It can easily become mealy or too earthy – or vanish altogether amidst bolder company. Needless-to-say, our first few attempts left something to be desired.
One of the challenges was working with the stock on-hand at The SideCar. Not that it’s a bad bar by any measure, but it isn’t a classic cocktail saloon. So, when I got it into my head that this would be a rye drink, Redemption Rye, which lends its name to the drink, was the only bottle of choice. For the other ingredients, I knew that I had access – though limited – to the kitchen stock as well as to that of the bar. With that knowledge, we started to hunt for ingredients that would draw out the major notes of the fig. Honey was the natural choice for sweetener, and a house-made fig jam was readily at hand. The drink needed a bright note, and we debated over lemon and mint. Here, both are used in moderation (the version currently on the menu at the SideCar excludes the lemon juice, but I prefer it, so I’ve added it back in here). Still, the drink was missing an element.
I’m a big fan of floats atop drinks, and our first experiment was with a sparkling wine, but it ultimately proved too dry and tart, throwing off the balance of the finished drink. A nice jammy red wine seemed more appropriate – a la the New York Sour — and Shiraz was the perfect choice. The result is a beautiful harmony of fig and flavors that complement fig. There’s just enough brightness from the lemon, just enough herbal from the mint, and a beautiful balance of bracing spirit to sweetness. All-in-all, I think MacGyver would be proud.
Over a burner set to the lowest possible temperature, dissolve 0.5 cups honey (orange blossom recommended) in 0.5 cups water
When the mixture has combined and is warm, pour over a handful of fresh mint
Leave stand for a few hours
Fig Puree (from Food & Wine)
2 cups Black Mission Figs, stemmed and halved
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Water
1 tsp Lemon Juice
Blend all ingredients together until smooth
Strain through a fine mesh sieve
Esoterica: The “Newton” in Fig Newtons comes from the town of Newton, Massachusetts. Kennedy Biscuits, which purchased the recipe from creator Charles Roser, was based in Cambridgeport, MA and had a habit of naming their cookies after nearby towns.