Barcelona is a amazing place to visit, especially for a G&T fan! Since we’re an office full of gin lovers we went on a visit to do some gin “research.”
Working for GinFestival.com comes with many benefits. We get to sample some of the world’s best gins, meet amazing people up and down the country and work with something we’re all passionate about. However, the best benefit by far is that you could not work for two better people than Jym and Marie. (Can I have a raise now Jym? - Adam). Who else would treat their entire staff to a weekend of gin “research” in Barcelona?
Barcelona has quite a few advantages over Bingley in January. For starters it’s 20 degrees outside and it isn’t raining. It’s also one of the greatest cities on Earth, with some spectacular architecture in both the modernist masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi and the dramatic edifices of the gothic quarter.
More importantly, (cough cough) Barcelona is also home to some of the world’s best gin bars. The humble gin & tonic (or a gintonic in Spain) has been raised to an art form by the Spanish and the current worldwide gin craze can easily trace its roots back here.
GinFestival is very much inspired by the Spanish style gintonic. Many of the things we think help make a great drink, such as serving our gins in large balloon or “copa” glasses with plenty of ice and the perfect garnish, originated in Spanish bars. So we wanted to go back to where it all began to pay tribute and see what else we could learn.
And to drink lots of gin of course.
We started with a lesson in gin history courtesy of Drinksmotion, a bartending and mixology school in Barcelona. Our guide told us all about the history of gin. Very short version; with origins in The Netherlands as jenever, gin drinking was brought to the UK by William of Orange. It rose in popularity for a few key reasons. Firstly, we were at war with France and so French spirits like brandy were hard to get hold of and secondly we had a surplus of grain that could be used to make alcohol with. Gin came to Spain via the British Navy base at Gibraltar and also through the sherry trade. Winemakers sending out ships full of sherry to Britain would return with holds full of gin and the Spanish developed a taste for gin drinking.
Tracing the origin of the current gin craze in Spain is a little trickier. For most of the 20th century gin in Spain was drunk by old men and nobody really knows why the gintonic suddenly exploded in popularity. At least in part though it’s due to changes the Spanish developed in how to serve gin.
Our guide then taught us the Spanish serve. It starts with what we call a copa glass but which the Spanish call a gin copa. The shape of the glass has 3 main benefits; the bowl shape concentrates the aromas in the glass, improving the flavour; the stem keeps your hands away from the drink, keeping it cooler and the large bowl has plenty of room for ice, which comes in gigantic blocks in Spain.
The next step is to add the ice and stir it, not to chill the glass, but to clear the ice of oxidation which makes it look less attractive & has slightly acidic properties. Then add your gin and tonic, pouring the tonic on the ice to preserve the bubbles as much as possible. Some bartenders will pour it down a bar spoon but our guide pointed out that this actually destroys more bubbles thanks to the metal in the spoon. Finally, finish off with a garnish.
We were pleased to learn that the way we serve gin is exactly right, but even so we picked up a few pointers and grabbed a few ideas to make GinFestival even better.
New knowledge in hand we set out to find a few gin bars to see how the spanish bartenders do it in action.
A few streets away from the Placa de Catalunya, Tandem Cocktail Bar is gorgeously appointed in polished wood and gleaming surfaces. It has the feel of a very classic cocktail bar with waiters in white dinner jackets and an older clientele, but the staff are very welcoming. They’re also skilled and make drinks with precision of a watchmaker and the flair of a footballer. Although this is officially a cocktail bar the gin selection is nonetheless impressive with all the classics well represented as well as some new favourites and some true rarities. Strangely, there isn’t much Spanish gin, most of the selection is from the UK.
Probably the place to go for gin in Barcelona, Xixbar has the biggest selection of gins in one place we’ve seen outside our own events. The huge selection encompasses plenty of Spanish gins, the odd jenever and some really bizarre gin creations like a gin and absinthe mixture or a heather gin liqueur. The aesthetic is pure Americana (black and white tiled floors and dirty chrome) but it mixes 50’s, 40’s and 30’s bar styles together and lights it in coloured flourescents. It’s an achingly cool place but they serve a top notch gintonic in the distinctly Spanish style.
A hidden gem just off La Ramblas. Boadas was founded in 1927 and appears to be basically unchanged since then. Don’t be put off by the old school vibe though, the staff are incredibly friendly and up for a chat and they’re master cocktail mixologists too. The gin selection is fairly small as Boadas is a cocktail bar first and foremost but it includes some great choices. They also seem to be going their own way with gintonic since they serve them in pint glasses! While this probably doesn’t help the delicate aromas of the gin they make up for it by measuring your gin by eye, very generously.
While you might not be able to make it to Spain this weekend you can certainly get a taste of it from our extensive collection of Spanish gins. We particularly recommend Sikkim Bilberry, sweet and fruity and very similar in flavour to Brockmans.
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