What Makes Spanish-Style Gin And Tonics So Delicious?
Spaniards Love Their Gin And Tonics
My first experience with a Spanish-style gin and tonic was several years ago at Jose Andres' The Bazaar Restaurant in Beverly Hills. My friend Pam ordered a gin and tonic and was presented with a beautiful cocktail featuring a single large round sphere of ice and a variety of herb and flower garnishes. The menu described it as "the ultimate gin and tonic." I had never seen anything like it and it tasted every bit as good as it looked. I did a little research and discovered that gin and tonics, called "gintonic" in Spain, is a large and growing trend in Spain and many European countries.
What’s in a Spanish Gin & Tonic
A Spanish-style Gin & Tonic, or ‘gintonic’ as they say in Spain, is usually made with a premium gin and the best quality tonic water, combined with your choice of bitters and various herbs, vegetables and fruits, all traditionally served over ice in an oversized glass.
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There is nothing I enjoy more than discovering new food and drink. So on a recent trip to Southern France and Northern Spain I made it my mission to experience Spanish-style gintonics. The Spanish take their gin and tonics very seriously. They have entire bars that are solely devoted to gin and tonics. In these temples of gintonic you select your gin, your tonic and a variety of bitters, herb and fruit garnishes. Or if you are like me, you let the highly trained bartender guide you into something delicious.
Our first gin and tonic research stop was at La Gintoneria Donostiarra in San Sebastian, just below the South Western border of France. This tiny wedge-shaped bar across the river from Old Town is devoted to gintonics and amazingly is listed in Tripadvisor's top 10 things to do in San Sebastian. Even San Sebastian's many wonderful Michelin starred restaurants are not listed in the top 10!
Our bartender at La Gintoneria was nothing short of an artist who patiently took a good 15 minutes to perfect two gin and tonics. He starts with an enormous balloon glass filled with large hunks of ice. You select a gin from their 100 some-odd collection of gins. He adds the gin to the glass and super-freezes it using dry ice to make the gin icy cold. Each cocktail is customized using a variety of herbs, zest, botanicals, various bitters and premium tonic water, such as FeverTree tonic water. Even if you don't think you liked gin and tonic when you arrived, you will leave La Gintoneria Donostiarra a gintonic devotee after your first sip.
Our next gin and tonic stop was in Carcassonne, France at the Library Bar in the Hotel de la Cite. Our bartender, Gaetan, was very helpful and shared a lot of information about making these wonderful Spanish-style gin and tonics. We took our cocktails out to the terrace and enjoyed them as the sun set behind the city walls. It really doesn't get better than this!
Our next gin and tonic was in Barcelona at at Bobby Gin, another bar devoted to just gin and tonics. At Bobby Gin's they make what they call a GinFonk, which are their own house-infused gins. My favorite was the Hendrick's ginfonk, infused with rose tea infusion, strawberries, lime and Elixir Vegetal. Elixir Vegetal is a concoction brewed with 130 medicinal plants and flowers by the Chartreuse monks since 1737. Bobby Gin also serves some delicious small plates to nosh on while you sip your gintonic. Try their Iberian Wild Pork.
Our last Spanish gin and tonic was at Hotel Neri, our favorite boutique hotel in Barcelona. Neri's gintonics were well-made with lots of ice, large balloon glasses and tasty aromatic accoutrements. Sit at the bar, at their rooftop or at a table in Neri Plaza to properly enjoy your drinks.
Type Of Gin
The first question you are asked when you order a gin and tonic in Spain is what type of gin do you like? If you are like me, you may have no idea. There are several styles of gin and many many brands of gin. The single unifying component of gin is juniper. After that, the variations in flavor are plentiful. Here are four basic types of gin:
Genever And Dutch Style Gins
Genever (also spelled jenever, genièvre and ginebra) is the predecessor of gin and was originally used as a medicine. It was distilled from malt wine and infused with juniper berries and herbs brought to the Netherlands via the spice trade in the 1600's. Other herbs were added to disguise the strong flavor. There are two types of genever: old (oude) and young (jonge) which refer to the distilling method and sugar content, and not the actual age of the spirit. Old genever is made with 15% to 50% malt wine and is aromatic, malty in flavor, golden in color and is made using the original method of distilling genever. New genever, refers to a style of genever that was invented around 1900 that has a more neutral flavor, no more than 15% malt wine and is clearer in color. Boomsma, Bols and Anchor Genevieve are all brands of genever.
London Dry gin is like it sounds, very dry and crisp with no sweetness. London Dry gin has a definitive juniper flavor and a bit of citrus. London Dry gin is what is classically used for martinis, but also makes a bracing and refreshing Spanish-style gintonic. Not all London Dry gins are made in London; the designation refers to the style and not where the gin is made. Beefeater, Tanqueray, No. 3 London Dry, Bombay Sapphire and Boodles are all London Dry style gins.
Plymouth Gin refers to a single gin manufacturer, The Black Friars Distillery, in Plymouth, England, that has been producing gin since 1793. Plymouth Gin was the official gin of the British Royal Navy, where it was often mixed with lime and quinine to prevent scurvy, and thus the origination of the gin and tonic. Plymouth Gin has a subtle juniper profile but a stronger root flavor. Plymouth Gin was specified in the original dry martini recipe, published in Stuart's Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them in 1904. Back in the day, the British Royal Navy specified "Navy Strength" Plymouth gin that had a 57% ABV (alcohol by volume strength), compared to the standard 41.2% ABV. Navy Strength is still sold today.
International Style Gins
This is a catch all category that includes the many new-style gins made all over the world that are infused with a variety of botanicals. These gins are distilled like traditional gin, but their primary flavor profile is usually not juniper. For me, this is where the gin story really gets interesting. I recently went to Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California to purchase some gin for this post. I was astounded that they carried 116 different brands of gin in an amazing array of flavor profiles. It was truly hard to pick. I wound up augmenting my personal favorite, Hendrick's gin, a well-known cucumber and rose infused gin, with four other choices:
- Sloane's Dry Gin took World's Best Gin, Best White Spirit and a Double gold medal in the 2011 San Francisco World Spirit competition. Sloane's Dry gin is made in the Netherlands with fresh citrus and by individually distilling a variety of botanicals including: angelica root, iris root, coriander seeds, juniper berries, vanilla beans, cardamom pods and licorice root. Doesn't that sound delicious?
- Saffron Gin, made by Gabriel Boudier in Dijon, France, is distilled with juniper, coriander, lemon, orange peel, angelica seeds, iris, fennel and saffron. The result is a gorgeous amber-colored gin that makes a great gin and tonic paired with a slice of orange, or more exotically with a slice of ginger, a piece of lemon grass, a star anise and some ginger bitters.
- Boodles Gin described as "a proper British gin" is long on juniper. There is no citrus in Boodles, as citrus is expected to be added when preparing a cocktail. Instead Boodles is distilled with nutmeg, sage, and rosemary. Boodles is a good example of a London Dry gin and is reasonably priced.
- Opihr Gin is a British gin introduced in 2013 that I confess to purchasing because I was drawn to their gorgeous label. (I admit to occasionally doing the same when I select wine. I am a sucker for great branding.) This London Dry style gin is infused with Indonesian cubeb berries (a first for me), Indian black pepper, Moroccan coriander, and citrus. I read a garnish recommendation for a slice of fresh ginger and a piece of a chili pepper. We tried mixing it with Saffron gin and adding ginger, star anise, a piece of lemon grass as well as ginger bitters. Yum!
Your Own Gin And Tonic Bar
You can set up your own gin and tonic bar. We recently had one at a large family and friend gathering and it was a big hit. We provided the ingredients and let our guests customize their own cocktails. Here is what you will need:
An Assortment Of Gin
You will definitely want a London Dry Gin and perhaps a couple international style gins. I am partial to Hendrick's and it does seem to be the crowd favorite.
Some Good Tonic Water
I like FeverTree, but Q tonic water also gets good reviews. The key is to use one that does not list high fructose corn syrup on the ingredient list.
We loved the oversized pinot noir wine glasses used for gin and tonics at La Ginotoneria in San Sebastian. These balloon glasses elevate a gin and tonic into something really special. Don't worry; the supersized glass do not translate into a super-strength drink. I use 2 ounces of gin per drink and 6 to 8 ounces of tonic water. The glass allows for plenty of ice and a very cold drink.
An Assortment Of Bitters
A specialty liquor store or Amazon is your best bet for finding interesting bitters. Definitely offer Angostura bitters and then consider adding some interesting ones such as grapefruit or cucumber bitters.
Citrus And A Zester
We offer lemon, lime, oranges and grapefruit and provide a good zester.
An Assortment of Fruits, Seeds And Spices
We like to provide cucumber strips, assorted berries, slices of fresh ginger, sticks of lemongrass, dried juniper berries, peppercorns, star anise, rosemary, thyme, mint and even slices of chili pepper.
Need A Recipe?
See my recipe for a Spanish-Style Gin and Tonic to get you started.