Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good cocktail. The problem I find with most “modern” cocktails is that they are just too cloying, too over worked, and have far too many ingredients. I appreciate what mixologists are doing to create new and exciting drinks, but the vast majority of them fall short. I guess, in some respects, it is the same idea that my boss has tried to convey to me when I am trying to come up with new ideas for projects: put everything out there, even the ideas you know are bad, because you have to get it all out to get to the good stuff. I guess you have to come up with a lot of crappy cocktails before you create a really good one.
Lately, I have taken note that the bartenders at Hearty, here in Chicago, are doing an exceptional job of coming up with excellent novel drinks, as well as great revamps of old favorites. Just last night, I had their redux of the Rob Roy, with strong hints of orange that brought a great freshness to a drink that can sometimes be too old-fashioned. My companion really liked their ginger-infused take on the Negroni.
Throughout my travels, I’ve visited a lot of bars with a lot of friends, and a few exceptional cocktails have stood out in my mind. One, however, has been stuck in my head for years, and I had it with my very dear friend Jennifer at the erstwhile Natasha’s in Portland, Maine. They had a clever cocktail menu devoted to single fruits, including pear, orange, and cranberry. I gravitate to anything fig-based, partly because I really like the flavor, and partly because it is my namesake. The Fig cocktail at Natasha’s was simply one of the best drinks I’ve ever had and, though it took me a long time to attempt to recreate it, I am very glad I did. Bear in mind that it takes some time to make fig-infused vodka, so you have to think ahead for this one.
Fill about 1/3 of a mason jar with dried black Mission figs that you’ve cut in half (about 9); fill jar with vodka and cover. Leave at room temperature for at least a week, shaking the jar to distribute the flavor every couple of days. The vodka will take on a dark amber color and end up looking like whiskey. You can probably leave the jar indefinitely, since the alcohol acts as a preservative, but I think you’ll find the flavor a little to tempting to just let it sit there.
Once your vodka is ready, put about a cup of cubed ice into a cocktail shaker and fill with fig vodka to cover. Add one of the figs from the jar to the shaker for each drink you are making. Add a few generous splashes of tawny port wine and a small squeeze of lemon, if you have a wedge available. Shake until the shaker is too cold to hold and strain into cocktail or coupe glasses. Float dry sparkling wine across the top of each glass and enjoy. It may be the perfect drink. I may be partial.