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The Drinks Of The Summer

Introducing el gin-tonic, the Spanish take on a quintessentially British recipe – plus four other sundowners to try

  • The gin and tonic 2.0

Remember when the Aperol Spritz was the new gin and tonic? Well, time and tides are cyclical. If you’re wondering what the new Aperol Spritz might be – how best to wash away indolent sun-dappled afternoons, whether you’re in Venice or on Venice Beach – you need look no further than the gin and tonic. Confused? Don’t be.

We’re not referring to your single-measure of supermarket gin plus lukewarm tonic served (in the British pub tradition) in a highball glass with a crescent of lime, not nearly enough ice and a plastic swizzle stick. We mean the gin and tonic redux, the gin and tonic 2.0, the gin and tonic pimped and preened and reimagined as the effervescent quintessence of itself.

If we have the British colonials to thank for the original combination of juniper and quinine, we must thank the Spanish for turning it into a fine art. Just as the British took the bitter Seville orange and transformed it into the miracle of marmalade, so the Spanish have taken the G&T and transformed it into el gin-tonic – a cultural phenomenon that has, in recent years, made Spain the world’s most voracious gin consumers (ahead of the Philippines – who knew).

The trend began around a decade ago in the Michelin-starred kitchens of Arzak and el Bulli. The chefs took to sipping “gin-tonics” in large red wine glasses filled with copious ice to keep them cool during hot shifts. They then began to serve the drink to their guests after dinner and soon, a cult emerged. Mr Nemanja Borjanovic, owner of London-based Basque restaurants Donostia and Lurra, noticed the trend on his visits to northern Spain in the late 2000s.

“Every time you’d finish a meal, they’d come and serve you a really strong gin-tonic like a dessert wine,” he says. “Normally, a digestif is there to help you digest your meal and send you to bed. But Spanish culture is so much about going out late – these were more like a way of rebooting your system, giving you a third or fourth wind.” An excellent idea in itself.

The Spanish gin-tonic has since evolved into a subtly different drink to its antecedent. In the best establishments, Mr Borjanovic insists, the barmen will free-pour a treble or a quadruple shot of gin (he makes do with a double). The drink is served in a humungous copa de balon, which often resembles a goldfish bowl on a stick. It can also be served, as pictured above, in a stemless wine glass. Or even a brandy glass. The important thing is that, for aficionados, the bowl shape of the glassware allows for a greater appreciation of the aromas. And yes, there’s also an element of fashion to it. As Mr Juanjo Maillo, head bartender at Urso Hotel in Madrid, explains: “I think one person started doing this and then everyone copied them. Some things are like that.”

What does vary is the garnish. “It started with Hendrick’s gin, which is made with cucumbers,” Mr Maillo says. “People started to put cucumbers in their gin-tonics and it made a little trend. And soon, each brand wanted something unique: strawberries, mint, orange, botanicals. It is a way of complimenting the gin.” The beauty of el gin-tonic is that you can fiddle around with it to your heart’s content

At Lurra, the combinations include Chase gin paired with apple and star anise; Sipsmiths with kaffir lime leaves; and Tanqueray with lemon thyme. At Barrafina in London, the head bartender, Mr Jose Etura keeps it simple: “We don't serve overly elaborate gin and tonics, but we do serve them in frozen highballs using lovely Spanish gins such as Xoriguer from Menorca, Nordés from Galicia and Gin Mare from Vilanova.” And the question is not only “which G?” but “which T?”. Fever-Tree has established an appetite for premium tonic waters that are drier and subtler than the mass-market brands. Fever-Tree’s Aromatic Tonic uses real angostura bark that makes a rich, aromatic pairing with Plymouth gin, it’s raspingly good. And small-scale soda producers are burgeoning, too. Pedrino is a Spanish tonic infused with Pedro Ximenez sherry – yes, an alcoholic mixer. Square Root, based in Hackney, east London, make a wonderful artemisia tonic.

GREEN APPLE GIN-TONIC

Part of the fun with this drink is putting your own twist on a classic. Improvise with spices and botanicals by all means (as we’ve done with star anise, thyme and juniper berries, below) – but keep it classy. Bartender Mr Jordi Ortero of Dux, Barcelona, advises exercising a little restraint at the chopping board. “Some people use too much and end up making salads with their gin and tonics.” So move over Aperol. Here is Mr Ortero’s refreshing recipe for summer in a (particularly large) glass.

(Adapted from a recipe by Mr Jordi Ortero of Dux, Barcelona) 

Ingredients:
50ml apple-infused gin (Larios 12)
Granny Smith apple slices
150ml premium tonic

For garnish:
Star anise
Thyme
Juniper berries

Method:
To make the apple gin, thinly slice a crisp green Granny Smith apple, place in a jar and cover with gin. Leave in a cool dry place for a couple of days and strain the liquid through a coffee filter to get rid of the sediment. Apple gin!

To make really good ice, forget about ice cube trays. Instead, freeze a large plastic container of mineral water overnight and then carefully hack into rugged lumps with a sturdy knife or pick. The larger the lump the lower the surface area and the slower the ice will melt. 

To make the gin-tonic, pour a generous double shot of gin (we’re not looking/judging) into as large a wine or brandy glass as you can find. Add a large lump of ice (or several large ice cubes). Pour in the tonic slowly to retain as much of its effervescence as possible and give it a gentle stir. Garnish with a few freshly cut crisp apple slices. Drop in the star anise, thyme and juniper berries – or try it with fresh mint. Salud!

And if you’re thirsting for more…
Mr Godwin suggests adding these cocktails to your summery drinks menu:

PALOMA

Created by Mr Don Javier Delgado Corona at the La Capilla in Tequila, Mexico, the Paloma is now having a moment. (You’ll see it popping up on drinks lists more and more.) The original is fairly elaborate, but it’s a fairly simple A+B combination in essence – tequila plus grapefruit soda – and thanks to the ready availability of San Pellegrino Pompelmo these days, a cinch to prep. A dash of Aperol (or Campari if Aperol is too sweet) really gives it oomph.

Ingredients:
Sea salt (optional)
Lime
50ml tequila reposado (100 per cent agave)
100ml grapefruit soda (eg, San Pellegrino Pompelmo)
Dash of Aperol

For garnish:
Pink grapefruit slices

Method:
Use a highball glass, which you may wish to rim with salt: simply wet the rim with a little lime juice and dip the glass in a bowl of salt, shaking off the excess. For the drink itself, fill the glass with ice cubes, add the tequila, squeeze in a spritz of fresh lime juice and top with grapefruit soda – plus the dash of Aperol if that’s your thing. Garnish the glass with a grapefruit wedge.

RI-RI MARTINI

So I came up with this tropical subversion as I was making gin martinis one afternoon last summer. I’d run out of French vermouth – but I did have a carton of a popular brand of coconut water advertised by Rihanna. The substitution worked surprisingly well (both have a similar dryness, aroma and acidity) and this two-ingredient refresher has since become my go-to summer aperitif. A good cocktail gone bad girl.

Ingredients:
50ml gin
25ml coconut water

For garnish:
Lemon zest
Fresh coconut

Method:
Make martini-style. Stir the gin and coconut water patiently with plenty of ice in a mixing vessel. Strain into an ice-cold martini glass and garnish with a lemon zest twist or some sliced fresh coconut.

WHITE PORT AND PEACH COBBLER

The Sherry Cobbler, a combination of sherry, sugar, oranges, berries and ice, was the US’s favourite drink in the 19th century. It also apparently occasioned the invention of the straw, originally an actual piece of straw thrust deep into the ice. This modern variation was finessed by Mr Bobby Heugel of Anvil in Houston, Texas.

Ingredients:
Portuguese dry white port
5-10ml honey
Peach, sliced into eight or so
75ml white port

For garnish:
Mint
Orange peel

Method:
Loosen the honey with a little hot water so that it’s ready to dissolve. Place five or so slices of peach into a cocktail shaker along with the honey syrup and white port. Shake with crushed ice and pour unstrained into a tall glass. Garnish with fresh mint, orange peel and a fresh slice of peach. Sip with straws.

THE JUNGLE BIRD

A kitsch classic, the Jungle Bird was invented in 1970s Malaysia and his since become a cult favourite in the recent cocktail revival. It’s partly due to the unusual combination of rum and Campari; partly because it’s so damn delicious; and partly because it’s so easy to make, even when half cut.

Ingredients:
45ml Dark rum (Jamaican is best)
15ml Campari
15ml lime juice
15ml golden sugar syrup
60ml pineapple juice

For garnish:
Cherries

Method:
Shake everything with plenty of crushed ice and pour unstrained into an Old Fashioned glass (or, alternatively, the most garish and silly Tiki mug you can find). Garnish quite simply with a pineapple wedge but feel free to go all out with gardenia blossoms, cocktail umbrellas, cherries, etc.