If you're a Chicago local, have ever visited our city, or simply follow the spirits industry, there's little chance that you haven't heard of The Violet Hour. Hidden behind a wall that regularly rotates between contributions from various artists, The Violet Hour is an intimate speakeasy lounge that focuses largely on pre-prohibition era cocktails. Their rotating cocktail menu is simultaneously creative and highly formulaic, and all of the drinks I've had the pleasure of trying are both complex and perfectly balanced.
Lucky for us, The Violet Hour has now made a taste of their signature flavors available for home bartender use. Managing Partner Eden Laurin crafted the first cocktail syrup, Batch No.1, with a natural blend of scorched demerara sugar, vanilla, orange, and bittering agents like wormwood, caccia bark, and licorice root. Her idea was to create a one-stop, approachable product that would efficiently offer sweetness and depth. My husband and I enjoyed the syrup in a Pimm's Cup and Sazerac while visiting the bar, but it's really so delicious that I could add it to just about anything or simply have a spoonful for dessert. One of the things that I found particularly meaningful is that Eden has used this product release as a means to help others. A portion of the proceeds goes to her nonprofit project, The Drinking Fountain, which aims to give back to communities who struggle with clean water access.
The syrup was so packed with flavor that I didn't need to do much to make it shine. Eden's recommended recipe is to adapt the syrup into an Old Fashioned with 2 oz of your favorite spirit and a citrus peel. I ran with that inspiration but added several complimentary components.
I knew I wanted to pair the syrup with KOVAL bourbon given it's lovely vanilla sweetness but decided to pack in more fall flavor by infusing the bourbon with fresh black figs. Since figs aren't in season for long, infusing them into a spirit is a great way to make their flavor last. You could also try this with frozen figs (I've seen some at Trader Joe's) or even dried figs (though look for ones without any added sugar). The infusion took only 5 days and was so tasty that I would gladly just sip it on ice. I then chose to add fresh-squeezed navel orange juice for some citrus brightness that wouldn't distract from the drink's velvety sweetness. While lemon and lime are excellent in lots of applications, they tend to steal the show pretty quickly and can distract from the rich profile of whiskey
I finished off the drink with flamed orange peel for a deeper, roasted citrus oil scent and flavor. For garnish, I added fresh figs but you could use the citrus twist if you're making this drink after fig season is over. The resulting drink was strong yet delightfully smooth with an uplifting scent, rounded sweetness, and lingering complexity.
- 2 oz black fig-infused bourbon*
- 0.5 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 barspoon Violet Hour Batch No. 1 Scorched Demerara Cocktail Concentrate
- Strip of orange peel
- Fresh fig, for garnish
Stir all ingredients other than orange peel and fig with ice until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Run a flame along the orange peel and then express the orange oils onto the surface of the cocktail. Cut the fig in half lengthwise and slide both halves onto a cocktail spear. Enjoy while getting cozy under blankets and jamming out to your latest vinyl finds.
*To make fig-infused bourbon, place 4 sliced black figs into a 16 oz jar and fill with bourbon to the top. Put in a dark place and allow to infuse for 4-5 days, shaking and tasting occasionally. Strain with a fine mesh strainer when you're happy with the flavor.