On Calle Pau Claris in Barcelona, there is a small restaurant called Bar Mut. When we arrived late on a Saturday night the kitchen had already closed. All nine of us were escorted into the vestibule of the next-door apartment building and told to wait quietly. An older man with thinning hair sat at his sentry in a tobacco stained grey flannel. He was there to make sure we kept quiet. After several minutes of silence, the manager reappeared at the base of a metal staircase and asked us to follow him up two, tightly winding flights of stairs to a nondescript grey door.
Bar Mut (Courtesy of Bar Mut)
Inside, down a long red walled hallway, was the speakeasy at Bar Mut and it was packed. The manager ushered us into a tight corner against one of the converted apartments’ windows and told us we had one hour before the space was needed for another reservation. Packed into the slim area between the bar and the window I glanced up at the top shelf and saw what I had been looking for: gin. In Spain they are mad for gintonics (The ‘g’ in gin is pronounced like a ‘y’ and the two words come out of your mouth as one). I had read about bars with gin lists whose depth competed with restaurant wine lists. And there across the entire length of the bar, three bottles deep, were the gin selections. There were gins I had only read about and never seen, gins I had never heard of, and plenty of familiar labels too.
Interior at Bar Mut (Courtesy of Bar Mut)
In essence, the Spanish gintonic is a cocktail and not a cocktail all at once. It is not so different from the stalwart gin and tonic that your grandfather used to sip after work and before dinner. The drink is made from gin and from tonic, but after that, the variations are infinite. The gin is the primary building block and the first ingredient to be decided upon. Which gin will you choose; good old London Dry or maybe an Old Tom gin? Once you’ve decided on one of the five basic styles of gin (London Dry, Plymouth, Old Tom, Genever, International Style) then one must sort through the hundreds of options on the market.
Next comes the decision of what kind of tonic should be used. There is always Schweppes and soda-gun tonic, but there exists a plethora of other options; Fever Tree, Q Tonic, house-made tonics, and many more. Once you’ve chosen your base product, the real genius of the Spanish gintonic comes into play; the use of botanicals. Each gintonic should highlight a specific botanical from the base gin. The gin is poured and then the fresh botanical added to the gin. The bartender lets it steep like tea for two minutes (you do not infuse these gins in advance, you only want the flavors to mingle in the glass) and then adds one large ice cube and slowly pours in the tonic. The gin/tonic is as refreshing as its popular namesake but with added layers of complexity from the simple highlighting of a botanical.
At Boqueria, we chose our gintonic list after several experimental sessions with the bartenders. At the first session, seven bottles of gin and three different types of tonic were lined up on the bar and over a dozen different botanicals were borrowed from the kitchen. The gins were chosen with only one limit imposed: they had to be commercially available in Spain and New York. We mixed and matched and created 10 drinks that we thought were a good showcase of gin’s botanicals. Then we paired it down to six concoctions at the next session (with one or two new versions emerging), and finally down to four. The format is the same for all four drinks: gin, tonic, and one or two botanicals. The name of each gintonic is simply the Spanish word for the principal botanical used. Here at Boqueria, we’re proud to be one of the first Spanish restaurants stateside to offer up a line-up of the gintonics that celebrates what Spain has been sipping and enjoying for years.
Albahaca ~ Junipero, Q Tonic, Lime, Basil
Uva y Naranja ~ G’Vine ‘Nouaison’, Fever Tree Tonic, Grapes, Orange
Clavo ~ Hendrick’s, Fever Tree Tonic, Cloves, Cucumber
Eneldo ~ No. 3 London Dry Gin, Q Tonic, Simple Syrup, Dill, Coriander
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