Feature: The Fig Manhattan

The Manhattan is the ultimate in libation sophistication. Since its invention in the 1860s, the Manhattan has been venerated by cocktail aficionados across the country and associated with cultural icons from Frank Sinatra to Sex and the City. In the classic cocktail book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (Doubleday, 1948), David A. Embury categorizes the Manhattan as one of the six basic drinks from which all cocktails are derived—kind of like the mother sauces of mixology. The other basic drinks are the Martini, the Old Fashioned, the Daiquiri, the Sidecar, and the Jack Rose.

This season, Sel de la Terre Back Bay offers the Fig Manhattan, a fantastic spin on the classic. The cocktail was devised by General Manager Ian Grossman who finds both fig and bourbon evocative of fall, or, as he puts it, “sweater weather.”

Each week, Ian cuts dried figs into quarters and boils them in cooking bourbon until they are plump and juicy. He then lets the figs cool and puts them in a jar with Jim Beam.

The infusion sits for at least a week before use. The cocktail consists of 2 ½ ounces infused bourbon and ½ ounce sweet vermouth, garnished with a bourbon-soaked fig slice. Ian has experimented with fig in cocktails in the past that were more complex, but is particularly happy with this concoction. “The simplicity allows the flavor of the fig to sing,” he explains. Woodsy, warming, and elegant, a Fig Manhattan is the perfect cocktail for a crisp fall day in Boston. Try one coupled with the grilled flatbread with smoked chicken, black Mission figs, pickled onions, Comté, and fried sage from our award-winning bar menu.

Embury writes that the effect of a well-made cocktail should be that “Taut nerves relax; taut muscles relax; tired eyes brighten; tongues loosen; friendships deepen; the whole world becomes a better place in which to live.” Join us on Boylston Street and experience just that!


~ by saltnews on September 29, 2009.

8 Responses to “Feature: The Fig Manhattan”

  1. Suddenly, I need a drink.

  2. What kind of figs do you use?… I’ve found in stores “Natural Turkish Figs” and “Calimyrna Figs”.

    • We use Calimyrna figs. Good luck! SN

      • Thanks for the reply. I’m about to try this at home very soon (after having sampled the delicious original in person not too long ago!).

        A few quick questions:
        1) How long do you generally have to boil the figs for in bourbon? And do you just boil them in straight bourbon, or anything additional?

        2) Why Jim Beam in particular? And just the regular Jim Beam, or one of the fancier ones (8+ year black label, etc.)? I bought some cheap bourbon for boiling the figs, and some regular Jim Beam for the actual infusion. Have you ever tried it with a fancier bourbon and is the difference noticeable? Or does it just get lost in the fig flavor?

        3) Finally, how air-tight does the jar need to be? This isn’t something like pickling eggs or such where it must be absolutely air-tight as to not allow any funky growth, or is it?

        Thanks for any help you can provide!

      • Straight from Ian…

        1) I boil the figs in the bourbon until the figs have absorbed most of the liquid or it has reduced to almost syrup. It’s just bourbon and figs; nothing else.
        2) I use Jim Beam because it is a reasonably priced but still fairly good bourbon, you wouldn’t really want to adulterate a finer bourbon with added flavors. If you want to use something a little nicer without breaking the bank, try using Makers Mark, it has a better mouth feel than Beam.
        3) The jar doesn’t need to be air tight for any reason other than to prevent evaporation, I have done extra large batches in 5 gallon buckets covered with plastic wrap in the past.

        p.s. If you are going to use your infusion to make Manhattans, try to find Carpano Antico sweet vermouth. It makes a HUGE difference.

  3. Thanks again for the help. I did in fact try to make this, and I found a few things:

    When I boiled the figs, they fell apart a bit more than what I remember being the case when I tried the drink in the restaurant. Basically, the insides seemed to fall out a bit, and the outer thick husk remained. Consequently:
    a) The drink was more “seed”-y than the one I had in the restaurant…which was fine. I decided not to discard the little bit of bourbon that was left over after boiling, and that added seeds to the drink, but I think that remaining bourbon had a good amount of fig-sweetness in it that I did not want to use.

    b) The chunks of fig left over that I tried to put in the drinks seemed mostly like chewy fig-skin, rather than the what I had in the restaurant, which was more of a “slice of fig” since the fig innards had mostly fallen out.

    Any suggestions on keeping the figs more intact? Perhaps boil them at a lower temperature or less vigorously, I am guessing?


    (P.S., also, how do you guys chill the drinks when you make Manhattan’s in the bar?…just adding a little chipped ice?…or chill the glass first?…or something else?)

    • Christian,
      We strain the bourbon before using it in the drinks. The garnish you see at the restaurant is actually a candied fig (made from a dried fig) – not the fig used in the infusion. Lastly, the ingredients are stirred (not shaken!) with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass.
      Good luck!

  4. had one of these last night and very cool to find this come right up in google under fig manhattan. am making these for TG.

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