We’ve been on a quest to turn me into a full-fledged gin and tonic drinker. It’s been an odyssey of sorts, but I am a firm believer. Particularly after our recent experience drinking a gin and tonic at the Ritz Bar at the Four Seasons Lisbon, Portugal.
My Earliest Memory of Gin and Tonic
I remember being a bartender, *gasp*, almost 25 years ago, and a gin and tonic was just that, nothing more. It was generally a Gordon’s or a Tanqueray splashed over some ice, with tonic that shot out of a soda gun. I added a dried out slice of lime on the edge of the glass and it was done. This was well before the cocktail craze of the late 90’s. Back then, a drink was just a drink.
I hated gin. I hated the smell. I remembered with each pour getting a whiff and turning my nose up at it. Until a few months ago, I felt the same. To me, it was an old British man’s drink. Don’t get me wrong, I can knock back scotch on the rocks like an elder statesmen. It was something that made me stand out amongst my female colleagues at the law firm. Older partners and male clients were generally impressed that I would order a scotch when my female colleagues were ordering rum and cokes, or some sort of pink cocktail.
But gin, yuck.
Gin and Tonic in Costa Brava
That was until we arrived in Costa Brava earlier this year. I put on a brave face when the marketing director of the tourism board offered me a gin and tonic during the opening night of the TBEX conference. On that night, well, something clicked. It wasn’t so bad. The smell was not as appalling. I actually enjoyed it. I knew I was in trouble. It was about to be a long five weeks in Costa Brava drinking gin and tonics.
We had another fabulous gin and tonic at Hotel Tamariu, where our friend, Chef Marc, works. It was a gin made in the Emporda region, and was garnished with rosemary and a frozen grape. It was big, slightly expensive, and fabulous!
A few weeks later, we toured Masia Serra, one of the Emporda wineries we visited. During our tour, Silvia explained all of the different herbs that they grew in their garden. When I asked why she had so many exotic herbs, including things like chocolate basil and lemon thyme, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye “For our nightly gin and tonic.” Yep, Silvia and Jaume have an herb garden on their vineyard solely to add fresh botanicals to their gin and tonics.
Feeling inspired in Costa Brava, we started to make gin and tonics at home. They just weren’t the same despite the fact that we were buying Catalan gins, like Gin Nut and Gine Mare. I started to realize part of that was because we bought cheap tonic. Our next purchase was from Fever Tree, a boutique tonic maker that seems to be making a killing off the gin and tonic craze in Spain. But, something was still missing.[box]
Check out our recommendations for the Best Gin Gifts for Gin Lovers[/box]
Gin and Tonic in Lisbon
When we arrived back in Lisbon, we started to notice that there were loads of gin and tonic menus at fancy bars and restaurants across the city. After over indulging in May and June back in Costa Brava, I had sort of given up gin and tonic for awhile. But, as soon as I saw them being advertised in Lisbon, a craving started to set in. How could I be craving a gin and tonic when only six months ago I despised them?
Filipe at the Porto Bay Liberdade in Lisbon made us each a really good gin and tonic at the Aviator 6 bar. He explained the aromatics he was using to flavor the Hendrick’s or Bulldog gin. He helped us chose the appropriate tonic to match each of the gins we chose. I never knew a gin and tonic could be this complicated. Similar to wanting to learn as much as I can about wine, I started to feel the same way about gin and tonic.
Gin and Tonic at the Ritz Bar Lisbon
We mentioned this to the folks over at the Four Seasons Lisbon during our stay. They asked if we wanted to experience a gin and tonic demonstration with their bar manager, Luis. I quickly accepted and we set a time.
We met Luis at the Ritz Bar at the Four Seasons. He explained the trend over the last decade, first in Spain, and now across the Iberian peninsula. I am not sure how it became such a big deal, but now bartenders train for proper gin and tonic preparation. Luis was no exception.
Luis chose the gin and tonic he wanted to prepare for us. He first started by smoking the glasses. Luis placed lemon thyme on a slate and fired it up with a torch. He then placed the glass over the thyme to add a smokey flavor to the glass. After adding ice, Luis brought out something like a small tackle box, containing juniper berries, cardamom, and other botanicals that they use to make gin and tonic.
For our gin and tonic, Luis sprinkled the ice with fresh saffron. He then sliced open fresh vanilla pods. He did not scrape the vanilla out of the pod, but instead just opened them with kitchen tweezers to release the aroma. He sprinkled Jamaican pepper over the ice, and placed the vanilla pod gently into the glass.
He added Monkey 47 gin to the glass. Monkey 47 is a German gin, that tastes very floral and citrusy. As the gin, and later the tonic, were added to the glass, the saffron infused the drink, making it a bright yellow color.
It’s also important that the tonic not just be splashed into the glass. Instead, they use a cocktail making spoon to drizzle the tonic into the glass, to prevent the gin and tonic from having too many bubbles. The whole process took time, but was entirely worth it.
Luis was also a good sport, allowing us to include our lesson on Periscope, which was a lot of fun. After our demonstration, and our Periscope, we just sat and enjoyed our somewhat strangely yellow colored gin and tonic, in the Ritz Bar at the Four Seasons. I may not have felt like an old man drinking gin, but I suddenly felt very classy.
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We were hosted by the Four Seasons Lisbon during our stay, and our cocktail demonstration, but my tendencies to overindulge in gin and tonics, well, that’s all on me. A gin and tonic at the Ritz Bar at the Four Seasons cost about €20, luxury saffron included.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.