What's In Season

Figs for Your Summer Cocktails

Why the fruit’s subtle sweetness and flavorful leaves make them ripe for sipping

Illustration: John Burgoyne

Whether tending bar at home or crafting cocktails for some of the best restaurants around Nashville, Mike Wolf turns to his garden when he’s brainstorming a new drink. Herbs, berries, and edible flowers of all kinds have found their way into his glasses, and come late summer, figs are one of his favorite sources of botanical inspiration. “They’re both exotic and easy to grow,” says Wolf, the author of the drinks guides Garden to Glass and Barantined and host of the Liquid Gold podcast. “The flavor is luscious, sweet, and a little nutty. I love how it hints at other ingredients, almost nudging you to pair it with certain things.” Those primo pairings include citrus, honey, and coconut—the edible leaves of fig trees have a subtle coconut flavor and are great for muddling into drinks (see recipe). “Figs also work really well with savory herbs like thyme, sage, and rosemary, and would be delicious in nonalcoholic iced and hot tea preparations,” Wolf says.

At the farmers’ market, choose a batch that has a little “give” without being too mushy (those will keep in the fridge for about a week). If you have a tree in your yard—or a generous neighbor with one you can pick from—look for a drop of moisture oozing from the figs. That’s a sign they should be plucked and enjoyed immediately. By all means slice a few up to serve with cheese and honey, but reserve some for happy hour. “When ripened from the sun in late-summer heat, figs are so great in drinks,” Wolf says. “It’s as if they’re hiding a delicious liqueur inside those velvety husks.”  

The Mixologist Recommends…

The Fig Chill
Yield: 1 cocktail

1 large fig leaf, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 oz. coconut water
½ oz. fig cordial (recipe follows)
1 dash Angostura bitters 
1½ oz. white rum (Wolf recommends Plantation 3 Stars or El Dorado)
1 oz. Manzanilla sherry
¾ oz. lemon juice
Soda, to top
Mint or fig leaves, for garnish

In a shaker, muddle torn fig leaf, coconut water, fig cordial, and bitters. Add rum, sherry, lemon juice, and 6 ice cubes, and shake vigorously until well chilled. Double strain into a tall glass and top with soda. Garnish with mint or fig leaves.

For the cordial: 

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
6 to 10 very ripe figs, quartered
1 lemon, zested 
1 orange, zested
1 cinnamon stick, crushed

In a saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve. Add figs, citrus zest, and crushed cinnamon stick, and return to simmer. After 15 minutes, lower heat so the mixture is barely simmering. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain into a jar for storage. Will keep in the fridge for at least a month.

Tip: For a stronger flavor, make the cordial a day ahead.