Why you should care
Because although the British Army may have invented it to fight malaria, the Spanish gin toníca fights what really ails you.
Gin + tonic used to be a hallmark of Britishness, crafted by her majesty’s army in India as an antimalarial. But lately gin lovers are heading south, to Barcelona.
Despite the economic recession — or maybe as a way to cope with it — Spain has recently developed an obsession with G+Ts. Strange as it may seem, the country is the world’s biggest gin consumer per capita, with demand increasing at an average of 18 percent over the past five years.
G+T is the ideal drink to enjoy with friends on a terrace because it is so refreshing.
What started as a niche taste has evolved into a mainstream obsession, especially in Barcelona where “gin tonic” (the Spanish have dropped the “and”) is the drink of choice in most restaurants, nightclubs and chiringuitos, or beach bars.
The city has more than a dozen establishments specializing in the drink, like Xixbar, Barcelona’s first gin-only bar that offers tastings and master classes to educate customers about the more than 200 types of gin from all over the world.
A more recent addition to Barcelona’s G+T scene is Bobby Gin, a trendy bar with wooden walls and soft lighting often packed with hipsters in search of the latest libation. Meanwhile, purists gather at the Ideal Cocktail Bar, where the bartender prepares classic G+Ts using organic lemons from his own garden.
The gin craze is such that Barcelona has taken to producing its own gin with brands like the traditional Giró, the sophisticated Tans and the extremely popular Gin Mare, distilled in a coastal town south of the city and packed with local aromatic spices like rosemary and sea salt.
Nobody knows exactly why Barcelona fell in love with G+Ts, but fans believe it’s because a good gin tonic fits well with the relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle.
I know many British tourists who go back to London and ask for ‘a gin & tonic like they do them in Spain.’
“[Gin + tonic] is the ideal drink to enjoy with friends on a terrace because it is so refreshing and it lasts a long time,” says Lucia Alvarez, a barmaid at Xixbar.
The simplicity of a G+T, according to Alvarez, is what gives mixologists the room to experiment with new textures and exotic ingredients, such as fresh ginger, pomegranate or crushed Sichuan peppercorns.
And while vodka can be bland and whiskey too intense, gin blends beautifully with aromatic flavors to suit a wide range of palates from bitter to fruity. And bartenders in Spain are known for being generous with the liquor, allowing tipplers to taste the difference between one gin and another.
“A G+T is an easy choice for those who don’t know much about cocktails,” explains Jose Antonio Femenia, head bartender at Boadas, the city’s oldest cocktail bar, which has also succumbed to the the gin rush.
“We have no more room for gins on the shelves!” says Femenia, who proudly shows off rows of bottles hidden under the bar. “But we are really the best at making them now. I know many British tourists who go back to London and ask for ‘a gin + tonic like they do them in Spain.’”
On the wall at Bobby Gin, a sign reads: “The perfect gin tonic does not exist,” but Spain is fully engaged in the pursuit of perfection nonetheless.