(Note: this post was originally published on September 18, 2019. It has since been updated with new photos and some tweaks).
A Fig Cocktail for Early Fall
Do you ever struggle with the times in between seasons? Sometimes I feel like September is caught between two worlds; it's certainly not summer, but it's not really fall yet either. So I find myself wondering: what is the ideal September cocktail?
This gin and tonic riff is the perfect sip for the transitional period from late summer through early/mid fall. Figs (one of my all-time favorite fruits!) usually come into season in late August and stick around through mid-October, so they coincide perfectly with this in-between time.
The beauty of this fig-infused honey gin cocktail lies in its balance. The figs are seductive and fruity while the honey is floral and sweet. A sprig of fresh thyme adds some woodsy fall aromas, and it's all overlain on a fresh yet complex gin and tonic base. Just like an early fall day with warm sunshine that gives way to a crisp night, this fig cocktail is all about unifying those different moods.
The Magic of Honey Gin Cocktails
There are a number of classic, historical honey cocktails (and especially honey gin cocktails) that this recipe borrows from. The most well-known is the prohibition-era Bee's Knees, which combines gin, lemon juice, and honey. My Ginger Bee's Knees is a fall-appropriate riff on the classic that uses aged gin and adds in a ginger simple syrup. Some other classic honey cocktails are the Gold Rush, the Brown Derby, and the Penicillin. And while decidedly not classic, my whimsical Ginnie The Pooh also uses honey.
If you've ever tried to use honey in a cocktail before, you've likely noticed that it's hard to mix. Honey is very viscous, so it wants to sink to the bottom rather than mix into your drink. That's why, for most honey cocktails, you'll want to use a honey simple syrup instead of straight honey. Keep reading to learn about this easy yet transformative technique for getting all that floral honey flavor into your glass.
What is a Simple Syrup?
This fig cocktail relies upon a simple syrup to get all that wonderful, decadent fig flavor into a drinkable form. If you've never made a simple syrup before, don't be intimidated. It's actually really easy to do at home, and a simple syrup keeps great in the fridge for weeks.
Generally speaking, a simple syrup is just a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water, cooked down until it becomes thick and syrupy. It's a great way to capture flavors that are difficult to get into a liquid form otherwise. Because figs aren't very juicy, they're not easy to add to a cocktail (and although you could add fig puree, the resulting cocktail would look murky). In this recipe, you'll make the simple syrup with honey instead of granulated sugar, so it's a double-whammy in terms of the flavors it will add to the drink.
How Do You Make a Simple Syrup?
A simple syrup is easy and quick to make. Here, because we're using honey instead of sugar, we'll start with a mixture of honey and water. Add your flavorings (in this case fresh figs) and cook it over a low simmer until the liquid has reduced significantly. You want to end up with a rich, thick liquid that will coat the back of a spoon (but not too thick; otherwise it will be difficult to incorporate into a cocktail). Strain the simple syrup through a fine-mesh sieve, then store it in a sealed jar in the fridge. It will keep for a few weeks, so don't hesitate to make a big batch so that you can mix this fig and honey gin cocktail again and again all season long.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here's what you'll need for this honey cocktail recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Fresh figs. Look for them at artisan grocery stores, your local food Co-Op, or Trader Joe's from late summer through mid-fall. Dried figs will not work.
Honey. I love the flavor that honey adds to this drink. However, you can make the simple syrup using granulated sugar instead of honey for a vegan version.
Gin. I love Barr Hill Gin from Vermont (and it's especially appropriate here, since it's made from honey!).
Pink pitaya powder. If you want your fig cocktail to have a bolder pink color (as shown in these photos), add just a pinch of pink pitaya. This is dried, powdered pink dragonfruit that you can find at specialty stores or online. It's totally optional though, and the cocktail still has a delicate pink hue without it.
Tonic water. I recommend using a low-sugar variety because you're already adding sweetness through the simple syrup. I love the "Refreshingly Light" tonic from Fever Tree.
Fresh thyme. I like to garnish this honey cocktail with fresh thyme for a fall feel and because the smell is so beautiful. You can omit it if you don't have thyme on-hand though.
Because the flavors in this cocktail are delicate and versatile, you can pair it with a wide variety of different dishes. It goes well with either summer fare or fall fare, and excels most with meals that involve herbs and/or fruit. Can't you envision sipping this on the deck on a warm September evening, maybe alongside some bountiful late-summer salads?
This fig and honey gin cocktail is an ode to the magic of late summer days and my most favorite seasonal treat: fresh figs! They're an ingredient that you can only get a couple months out of the year, and to me they epitomize the beauty of super-seasonal eating. If you haven't fallen in love with figs yet, I hope this cocktail will convert you.
Enjoy these last few gorgeous bits of summer, sipping one of these fig cocktails and soaking up the sun while you still can.
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
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To make the honey fig simple syrup, cut the figs into quarters. Combine them with the water and honey, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a low boil. Boil until the mixture has reduced significantly and turned a light purple color, about 10-15 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Keep an eye on it and don't let it go too far.
Strain the simple syrup through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the fig pulp (you can use the cooked figs as an add-in to yogurt or oatmeal).
Put the simple syrup in a jar or container and chill it for at least several hours.
In a cocktail stirring glass, combine the gin with the simple syrup and optional pink pitaya powder. Stir with ice.
Strain into a highball glass over ice; use a fine mesh strainer if you added pink pitaya powder.
Top with tonic water to fill the glass.
Garnish with fig slices and a sprig of thyme.
Store any additional simple syrup in the fridge for up to a couple weeks.