Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Gin Tonic

After my post last week about sangria, I thought I'd keep with the drink theme, moving on to something slightly classier that has recently become hugely popular in Spain, the gin and tonic, or 'gin tonic'.

Gin and tonic has historically been a British drink, created by the army of the British East India Company in the early 19th century. In the 1700's it was discovered that quinine (the base of tonic) could be used both as a prevention and a cure for malaria. Each British soldier had a ration of gin as part of their daily rations, so gin and tonic was a natural progression due to the dangers of the disease faced by many of the soldiers. The first 'gin and tonics'  were a mix of water, sugar, lime and gin mixed with the quinine to dilute it's very bitter taste. Nowadays quinine is no longer used as an anti-malaria treatment, and the tonic water today contains far less quinine and is often sweetened to deter the bitter taste.  

Though many people view gin and tonic as a British drink, which it undoubtedly still is, it's popularity has soared in the last few years in Spain, so much so that Spain is now the biggest gin consumer per head of population in the world, with demand growing on average 18% each year for the last five years.

A British gin and tonic is usually served in a small thin glass with a slice of lemon or lime and a couple of cubes of ice. You get the choice of one, maybe two gins if you're lucky and slim line or regular tonic. In Spain however, many bars now stock a wide variety of gins and tonics, and are garnished with a wide range of fruit, herbs and spices. When working in the Pyrenees over the winter, the bartender at my hotel made the best gin and tonics I have ever seen or tasted. Here's a step by step method to make one:

1.  Put between 7 and 10 cubes of ice in a 'copa de balon', or a balloon glass. These glasses seem like fish bowls compared to the tall thin ones you find in England, and are often bigger and wider than a red wine glass.

2. Swirl the ice in the glass to cool the glass down, a good gin and tonic needs to be cold!

3. Squeeze some juice from a lemon, orange or lime (or a mixture if the three) into the glass.

4. Add the botanicals and a bit of sugar. Many different botanicals are used to compliment the ingredients used in gin production, though José uses lavender, star anise, cardamom pods, juniper berries and some scrapings of raw liquorice.

5. Add a swirl or two of the peel of whichever fruit you have used the juice from. There are special tools to create a thin spiral of peel, though a potato peeler will do the job just fine. The peel of fruit actually contains the most flavour, which is why you won't see a slice of lemon in many gin and tonics across Spain.

6.  Rub some of the raw liquorice and fruit peel around the rim of the glass to flavour it.

7. Add the gin, a double shot at least. I have been told that the best gin and tonics have a ratio of 1:2 gin to tonic. Adding the gin first gives it a chance to mix with the juice, sugar and botanicals to bring out the flavours of it.

8. Add the tonic. Even this was done differently, rather than opening the bottle, he pierced the lid with a knife, shaking the tonic into the glass to fizz it up, again this was to bring out and fully mix all the flavours of the drink.

9. Enjoy!

Naturally this is a very extravagant version of the drink, and you can still make a great gin and tonic with the four basic ingredients, gin, tonic, ice and citrus. Due to the popularity of the drink in Spain it is now possible to find gin botanical sets in supermarkets and shops, containing a selection of the ingredients and spices needed to make yourself a special gin and tonic. As well as the aforementioned ingredients, I have also seen pink peppercorns, cucumber and strawberries used in a gin and tonic, and I'm sure there are many other combinations used across Spain.

Today you can find many specific gin and tonic bars across Spain, especially in the big cities. These bars often have over 30 different types of gin, such as the British Beefeater, Gordans or London No.1, the French G'Vine, or the Spanish Tanqueray or Larios gins. Many also stock up to 5 or 6 different types of tonic from brands such as Schweppes, Fentimans or the very natural Fever Tree.

You can get a gin and tonic in pretty much every bar in Spain, ranging in price from around €5 to up past €20. The best gin and tonics in Salamanca I have tried so far are from a bar called 'Hernández y Fernández', set in a small square with outside seating, they have a wide variety of gins to choose from and create a refreshing smooth drink.

So next time you go for a drink and fancy something a bit different to wine or beer, give a gin and tonic a try, and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised!

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