Did you know that Spain drink more gin per capital than even Britain? No, it’s true! Everywhere you look, there were gintonics. Every restaurant and every bar, has a special touch, and there are gintonic bars popping up that specifically focus on these beverages. In one bar, which we found ourselves taking over, had 2 pages of gintonics listed.
Spain, it appears is a gin nation. Wine, although much loved and much consumed, is really secondary to the cocktail culture of the big cities. Here, you will see craft gin of all sorts, sizes, and flavors.
One important factor in Spain is the use of craft tonics as mixers for this elixers. Gin, distilled from the Juniper berry, has always been one of those beverages that I shied away from because it seemed like an old man’s drink. It smelled odd, and it was oh so very British. Tonic water, which has quinine dissolved in it, began an an anti malarial tincture. Now, with the invention of synthetic quinine, and the lower amounts in the mixer, tonic is used for a distinctive bitter taste in mixed beverages.
Our second night in Villafranca (just outside of Barcelona, where our press trip started) as we gathered in the bar, I saw pages of gintonics staring back at me from the menu. The night before, having tasted someone else’s drink and stared wistfully a the tiers of gin on the wall in the small but elegant hotel bar, I knew I needed to explore this. Next to them, there were several tonics. These were not your generic Schweppes tonic mind you but they were special edition infusions: pink peppercorn, orange blossom & lavender, ginger & cardamon. What were these delicious fizzies behind the bar?
I promptly let myself get talked in to my first gin & tonic. These botanical tonics intrigued me, and the art of making the beverage is as beautiful as the beverage itself. Depending on the gin you order, you will get a different additon to your drink. Most often, gintonic (in Spain, forget the “and”), you get will get lime wedges or slices. However, if you order a Bombay Sapphire I found, you would get cucumbers. These might be curled, or sliced, and each bartender had a specific art.
The botanical tonics added a complexity to the drink, which allowed the bartenders to be more creative. One night, as I was now hooked on the gintonic idea, I had a Hendricks with pink peppercorn tonic. With that, I had cucumber and dried juniper berries in my bowl of cold refreshment.
One other such craft tonic is Fever Tree, which fortunately is available here in the states. Fever Tree is a delicious tonic, that sets Schweppes (the regular kind) on it’s head with it unique slightly citrus flavor or which counteracts the bitterness of the quinine.
After tasting a different gin every night, and in fact, more than one gin on some nights, I determined that my favorite is Hendricks. I also enjoyed Bombay Sapphire, though not Bombay or Beefeater. Here in San Francisco, our local brewery (which also houses a small distillery) makes two gins. I suspect those will make an appearance in my bar shortly. Much like scotch, there are hundreds of gins of all flavors. Some are more intense, some are more mellow, but all are from the same mold.
I plan to continue experimenting! A friend of mine makes tonic, and maybe I can talk her in to teaching me the secret to her art, and make some infusions of our own. What flavors would you like to see in an infused tonic?