Labor Day weekend has come and gone. We’re in the thick of September now. Pumpkins are popping up outside of grocery stores, and the leaves are showing the tiniest bits of orange on their edges. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting on the patio at Boston’s Prudential Center in a jacket, getting slightly chilled as the breeze picks up. Sipping on an espresso, I’ve got excellent people-watching views on all sides of me. It might be my imagination, but it feels like everyone is out-and-about, trying to soak up as much fresh air as possible before the weather turns. We’re in that in-between moment when both shorts and sweatshirts seem appropriate depending on whether you’re in the sun or shade.
One of my favorite things about this time of year is the mixing of fresh produce and jammier summer fruits with the deeper, more bitter tidings of fall. It’s a more complex set of flavors that is unique among the seasons I think. Think about it. An amalgam of juicy peaches and other stone fruits, crisp apples, fleshy figs, and a smattering of lingering berries. Not to mention the sweet and savory corn and tomatoes that will have run their course soon.
Here I’ve made a quick compote with ripe plums and figs—a perfect example of an early fall flash in the pan, attempting to preserve the flavors where we can. Except it gets much better for two reasons. Ice cream. And WHISKEY. Ice cream, that token summer treat dripping all over you as you rush to eat it before it completely melts. And then we have the whiskey. A quintessential fall flavor that reminds me of cooler weather and cozy nights. Bitter, smoky, and warming.
Tah dah! We have a boozy milkshake with whiskey, fig, and plum all mixed in. Jammy, creamy, and bitter all at once. Welcome to September.
I made an Irish Coffee last year with Jameson Whiskey, my whiskey of choice as I work my way up to stronger brands and extra-smoky Scotch, and talked all about the production of Irish whiskey. Because it seems appropriate to say goodbye to sweet, summer-y flavors and hello to the bitter, I think it would be fun go back there and chat about whiskey once again.
Irish whiskey is a protected origin name—just like champagne or Vermont maple syrup. There are certain stipulations along with the location of production in order to bear the name of “Irish” on the whiskey label. For example, the whiskey must be aged for at least three years in pretty small volumes to maintain good aging quality. Additionally, the whiskey must be distilled to an alcohol percentage of less than 94.8% using yeast and cereal grains.
The Irish whiskey regulations are actually very similar to the Scotch whisky ones though, generally, Scotch whisky is distilled twice while Irish whiskey is distilled three times giving it a smoother, less smoky finish. As a contrast, American Bourbon whiskey is made from at least 51% corn in the grain mixture, and there is no aging requirement.
However, the act is slightly more complicated because there are desired and undesired volatiles that are boiled off from distillates. The first fraction of the distillate is generally discarded because it has compounds that are extremely unpleasant—aromas such as sweat, wet dog, etc. It takes an experienced distiller to understand when you should start collecting the distillate. The second fraction is where the general magic happens and we get all of the great phenols, higher alcohols, etc. Once the second distillate is collected, the entire process can be repeated for purity’s sake, but from there we age the mixture.
When the distillate is aged, it’s similar to how we think of wine production. Materials in the liquor begin to react with each other and mellow out the overall flavor while creating new, deeper profiles in the liquor. For example, those higher alcohols, aka fusel oils, I mentioned in the previous paragraph are partially responsible for that unpleasant bite in moonshine. Generally, we keep these low in liquors that are meant to sell quickly. In aged liquors, however, these fusel oils interact and produce mild, more desirable smelling components in the liquor.
This baby is pretty amazing, but you can of course omit the whiskey! Simply swap out the same amount of milk for the whiskey. You won’t get as much depth, but you’ll surely have a great milkshake. Enjoy, and sip away! Also, the compote is a really great addition to a cheese plate or your morning toast. Or even a yogurt mix-in.
Fig and Plum Compote
Makes about 2 cups
From Tartine All Day
8 figs, ripe, stemmed and quartered
1 large plum, ripe, cut into eighths
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Large pinch each of sea salt, black pepper
- In a small saucepan, combine the figs, plum, honey, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat for 7-9 minutes, until the mixture thickens and the fruit is very soft and falling apart (creating a compote).
- Let cool completely. Seal in a jar and store in the fridge for several months. In the past, I have added a teaspoon of lemon zest at the end for brightness, so feel free to mix that in just before you transfer to the jar!
Fig and Plum Vanilla Milkshake with Whiskey (or not)
2 Scoops vanilla ice cream
2 oz (¼ cup) Jameson Whiskey OR 2 oz milk (see notes just above the recipes)
A few spoonfuls of Fig and Plum Compote (see above)
- Blend together the ice cream, whiskey (or milk), and two spoonfuls (about 2 tablespoons) of the compote.
- Transfer to a tall glass and top with another spoonful of compote. Serve immediately with a straw and spoon.
**Do not attempt to freeze this milkshake and serve later. The alcohol and fruit add just enough water and ethanol molecules (see here!) to make the entire mixture icy, and no longer smooth.**