Next on our list of the great gin drinking countries of the world is Spain, the largest European gin market.

Here, they’re known for the ‘boldness’ of their measures and love of extraordinary garnishes – gin and tonic with a star anise, anyone? Read on to learn more about the craze for Spanish gin.

History

The Spanish, would you believe, are the biggest drinkers of gin in Europe. They can also rival the Brits for the story of our much beloved tonic water: back in the 1600s, the Spanish wife of the Viceroy of Peru fell ill with malaria and Quechuan tribal healers brought physicians the bark of the ‘fever tree’ to relieve her fever. La Chinchona, as she was known, survived and brought the quinine water recipe back to Europe.

How they drink it

Fever Tree tonic is the preferred dash to accompany Spanish gin – and it really is a dash. They like their “gin-tonics” strong, maybe even half/half. It has to be served in a pseudo-goldfish bowl (a large balloon glass, called a copa) with plenty of chunky ice to keep it cold without melting. And, here’s the wacky bit, the Spanish go gaga for garnishes. We’re talking peppercorns, star anise, nutmeg, mint leaves and more. While some bartenders take this to the extreme, there’s no doubt making a gin-tonic is something of an art form in Spain.

Which gin do they like?

Given the Spanish penchant for potency, you really can taste the difference in your glass between the plethora of gins on offer. Should you ask for a gin-tonic in Spain, the first question from the bartender will be ‘Which gin?’ often followed by ‘Which tonic?’. Some bars even dedicate an entire menu to gin-tonic, with tonics ranging from Fentimans and Q to Original and Boylan.

Spain has more than 30 Spanish gin brands of its own – Gin Mare from the Costa Dorada being the botanical star, with a pretty funky bottle to boot. Rives is very popular in Andalucia, while France’s G’Vine is the other name on everyone’s lips. However, Larios and its premium sister Larios 12 are the staples on the supermarket shelves, being produced in bulk in Malaga by the American owners of Jim Beam.

Why are they so obsessive?

The revival of gin-tonics started off in Dicken’s Bar in San Sebastian, where top chefs networked over a good G&T. It’s also said to have been the favourite tipple of the El Bulli staff. Then the word spread and the rest is historia. Now, Spanish gin appreciation societies and workshops extol the virtues of this blend of juniper or that hint of rosemary from Barcelona to Madrid and dedicated gin-tonic bars figure all over the country.

When do they drink it?

Perhaps surprisingly, gin-tonics are rarely served as aperitifs in Spain but rather postprandially or in nightclubs. There’s a growing trend towards a tipple with a plate of tapas, too. Quality gin-tonics aren’t just the preserve of the up-market bars, though, as even the lowly spit ‘n’ sawdust bartenders can rustle up a gem.

The statistics…

Spain gets through 3.2 million cases of gin per year, with 75% of this made locally. Consumption has dropped from 6 million cases in the ’90s, but the Spanish still buy 5 million litres from the UK every year and are our second largest export market.

For a simple way of re-invigorating your standard G&T, take a leaf out of Joaquín Fernández’s book (Dicken’s Bar’s mixologist and winner of the first Spanish gin-tonic competition in 1999):

Take a round glass and fill it to the top with ice.
Peel off a large chunk of lemon (or lime) zest.
Using two sets of tongs, scrape the zest strip a number of times and then twist it to extract the oils, before placing it in to the glass.
Carefully pour the gin and then the tonic down the edge of the glass.
Stir gently with a spoon.
Repeat the zest process over the top of the glass, discarding this final piece.
¡Salud!

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