What’s up with the Spanish Gin Tonic?
If you are vaguely aware of European cocktails or are a juniper fiend you are probably up to speed on Spain’s obsession with the Gin & Tonic. The Spanish “Gin Tonic” is served in what it basically a Nebbiolo glass, about 1.25 oz of gin to 7 oz of bone dry tonic (I saw even the shittiest beach front ice cream stands use Fever Tree) with a twist of a few citrus bits. Enjoy a video of Charlotte Voisey making a Hendricks styled one here.
I popped into a place called Bobby Gin one night and greatly enjoyed their Gin Tonic menu. It was one of their 3 menus, the cocktail menu, the food menu and the gin menu. It featured 12 Gin Tonics with various garnishes used to accentuate their botanicals, a glossary of gin terms, 4 bespoke Gin Tonic cocktails, a list of a half dozen limited edition gins and a full list of their few dozen house gins.
It may not be profound to have a Gin Tonic menu in a country obsessed Gin Tonics but it is quite brave to dedicate a menu to perfecting just 1 cocktail.
Everything I want from a bar is the skill to differentiate a couple dozen Gin & Tonics and the desire to dissect, on a subatomic level, a 2 ingredient cocktail. Just a 2 ingredient cocktail right?
The Spanish Gin Tonic as opposed to the American Gin & Tonic is a recipe of infinite jest. One would expect that the majority of the world makes a Gin & Tonic with gin, tonic water (real tonic if you are lucky) ice, a slice of fruit and in a tall glass to accentuate the carbonation in the tonic. Yet the afore mentioned recipe is highly improbable in most environments even though it is just a “2 fer” cocktail. To leave sports behind and instead tap Dungeons & Dragons for a metaphor, you’d have to roll 18 up on a 1 D20 to get a decent Gin & Tonic anymore.
The average G&T these days will look like this. Correct by definition but unbalanced, sad, warm, missing the proper glassware, a triangle of lime that if you squeeze it shit goes everywhere and your hands get sticky.
Might as well just drink from the bottle
while looking at a can of Sprite for garnish.
A respectable gin & tonic will be packed full of ice in a tall glass, no weaker or stronger than the bucket of shit pictured above, rather it’s just in a glass that pushes bubbles up and keeps the cocktail cold. The highball glass is a bare minimum for a gin and tonic, the next step is getting real tonic. Pick up the bottle and look for the word quinine, if it’s not there, it’s not tonic.
I believe the true success of the Spanish Gin Tonic is that this cocktail isn’t a “2 fer.” The Gin Tonic is a example of how to make a cocktail better. It has a great many ingredients and infinite variations there of. The concept of the Spanish Gin Tonic is to garnish with botanicals that accentuate the gin. You’ll notice on the menu at the end of this post, different garnishes are chosen for almost every gin. Most of thinking for garnishes is to “double down” on botanicals like Charlotte did with the roses & cucumbers in her Hendrick’s.* But another easy concept would be to use complementing flavors, for example using a slice of strawberry to compliment the lavender in Aviation Gin.
A bartender always has many more than 2 variables to make a highball better, and the Gin Tonic proves that. Choose wisely your:
- Glass– size, shape, temperature
- Gin– London, distilled, compound, new world, aged
- Tonic– off the gun, house made, soda syrup, bottled
- Ice– chipped, cubed, size
- Garnish– citrus, berries, vegetables, dried botanicals, fresh herbs
The other peculiar bit is that the glassware they choose is the fishbowl/nebbiolo/burgundy glass which is somewhat the equivalent of the choosing the champagne coupe over the flute. While the flute is pleasing to the eye and the champagne’s perlage, it doesn’t enhance the aroma too much. And while the chardonnay glass is ideal for champagne, the champagne coupe is certainly the most enticing way to drink. Drinking champagne from coupe allows the bubbles to enswathe the drinker’s head and experience the champagne deep in the back of one’s brain.
I think that is why they use this glass.
Asking Chris Tanghe, a “wine guy” I know, what he thought about serving a Gin Tonic in such a glass at about 8% ABV, he offered:
“The glass thing is kind of goofy and precise all at once.
From a wine perspective it relates to the dominant aromatic compounds paired with relative alcohol. Here is the precise part. For example if you have a wine with a lot of terpenes (floral, herbs etc) and higher alcohol you want a glass that is going to mitigate the assault on your olfactory. That glass would have a wider opening and a less bulbous shape so that those aromatics paired with the booze would fall out of the glass rather than fire like a bullet from a barrel.
If we have a moderate alcohol wine with delicate aromatics we want to concentrate those by having more surface area of a bulbous glass to release phenols to mix with the alcohol to be carried to your nose via a narrower opening. These would include wines like Pinot Noir, Gamay, Nebbiolo (although these can be higher alcohol) etc.
Another consideration is the thickness of the glass at the lip and here we want the thinnest possible. This helps to deliver the wine to the palate with a fair amount of air so that the impression is amplified.”
Thanks Chris, very helpful to have a true pro on the case.
To sum up the thoughts of the Master Sommelier, yes, it makes sense to use a glass like this. But Chris also pointed out, the likely truth as well, the glass is more likely chosen for aesthetics. I would offer that making an aesthetic choice in cocktails is just as important and making a scientific choice.
Here is where you should be asking the obvious question:
“So what if I make a Gin & Tonic better, that doesn’t really change anything, right? I mean, Andrew, you are just ranting about some shit we all already know.”
Half true, yes, we already know about the Spanish Gin Tonic but the real story here, is that this heightened method for highball creation is now the Spanish standard. They make this drink with care, everywhere. From beach front shack & tourist tapas bar to haute hotel bar & posh private club, the Spanish Gin Tonic is taken seriously. This is a trend that changed the way that an entire country makes a cocktail, the same is happening right now in America for trends like fresh juice, having more than 1 bitters, use good ice or just not using the suffix “tini.”
If you care, you might inspire or trick others into doing the same, even if they don’t know why they suddenly care.
I’m sure that the Spanish Gin Tonic owes much of its to the fact that it’s “oohhh pretty,” and “wow, there is a lot of shit in this glass.” But it also offers the evolution and elevation of a unappreciated cocktail. The challenge I would offer bartenders is:
Can you elevate any drink you make to the extent that the Spanish have elevated the Gin Tonic?
Enjoy below, the menu at Bobby Gin, and perhaps see how you can make an entire menu for 1 drink other than the dreaded “mojito menu.”
Thanks Bobby Gin.
*Hey bartenders, start paying attention to when apostrophes are used in spirits. Pretty 101 level.