Challenged with fresh figs by David Hermach of Clark Street Ale House, Double A bartender Sean Still started by punning. The creator of drinks such as the From Sean to Dusk (gin, Chartreuse, creme de violette, pear, lemon, and shiso leaf), she first toyed with doing a take on the White Russian, to be called the Fig Lebowski. She also experimented with a drink she named the Figgy Pop—aquavit with muddled figs, lemon, and sake—but found that muddling alone failed to bring out enough fig flavor. So for her next effort she made a supplemental syrup, cooking down the fruit with water, sugar, lemon peel, and lemon juice, then straining the reduced liquid. The resulting concoction has the mauve tint of a sunset.
"I was looking for fall flavor, with a summertime feel," Still said. For the former, she drew on the smokiness of mezcal (Double A, in the basement of Mercadito Chicago, specializes in tequilas and other agave-derived spirits). From there, consulting Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page's The Flavor Bible "gave me so many crazy ideas," she says, but rather than "a tincture of arugula," for example, she wanted something accessible. Orgeat, a sweet almond syrup used in mai tais and other classic tiki drinks, fit the bill, adding a complementary flavor without making the drink overly sweet.
She further balanced sweetness with the addition of the moderately bitter Italian amaro Ramazzotti. Lime was too harsh with the figs, so for acidity she went with more lemon juice.
"It's very complex," she said of her drink. "You're going to start with that smoky nose, then you get the sweetness from the almond syrup, then a little bit of sour, then it finishes with the delicate flavor of the fig."
By this point she'd arrived at a name—the Figgy Stardust—and that inspired her garnish, a caramelized fig crosshatched with an X before roasting, its quarters held in place by skewers to form a star.
"I had to do Bowie justice," she says.
2 oz Fidencio Mezcal Clasico
3/4 oz Ramazzotti amaro
1 oz fig syrup
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz orgeat
2 fresh figs
Caramelized fig "star," for garnish
Put the fresh figs in the bottom of a mixing glass and muddle till you have a paste. Add the orgeat, lemon juice, and fig syrup, mixing a bit more, then the Ramazzotti and mezcal. Add ice, cap, and shake well. Double strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the fig star.
Still has challenged Justin Fox of North Pond with coriander, in whatever form he chooses.