“The gin and tonic has a fascinating history,” says famed Chef José Andrés, the man who brought small plate dining to America and his marquee name to Las Vegas. “It was created by the British — in England and India — but it was perfected by the Spaniards.” Chef Andrés adds that everyone in his native Spain drinks gin and tonics and experiments with different versions of the classic drink.
"Think about it,” he says, "the gin and tonic has united cultures and continents all over the world.”
Juan Coronado, the Cocktail Innovator at Andrés’ThinkFoodGroup, has given it a lot of thought. He knows the history: The gin and tonic was originally a way to drink quinine, the distillation of a South American bark known for its anti-malarial properties. It became popular with the British colonial set despite its bitter taste and only increased in popularity when bartenders starting adding sugar and lime to the mix. Today, quinine is gone (though malaria is not), but Coronado believes the drink needs to be re-imagined again for drinkers not tanning in the Iberian sun.
Photo Courtesy of Aaron Clamage
Spain’s gin and tonic is different from the American version. In the US, the G and T is often times considered to be a basic cocktail. It isn’t usually glamorous and doesn’t require extra elements for aroma or flavors. In Spain, the gin and tonic has been elevated to an art-form. “It has adopted the large wine glasses as a preferred vessel, and it is accompanied by an array of garnishes such as lemon verbena, juniper berries, blood oranges, lime wheels and large format ices,” says Coronado. He sees this as the way forward and he credits craft tonic makers with leading the charge.
Craft tonics are made to enhance the botanical notes that exist on gin. “You can feel the difference when you taste a commercial versus a craft tonic due to the amounts of sugar in the commercial ones,” Coronado points out. Consumers are leaning towards tonic waters that have less sugar and that are dryer, such as Fever Tree, which is made with natural cane sugar instead of high-fructose sweeteners.
At JoséAndrés’Jaleo, Coronado makes his cocktails from a massive selection of gins and tonics. The José’s Ultimate Gin and Tonic contains gin, fever tree tonic, lemon verbena, juniper berries, lime wheel, lemon peel and it is served in a large rock glass with a sphere ice. In America, that drink would never hit the menu. In Spain, it’s just another variation.
Coronado’s advice: Get bigger glasses, lean back, and enjoy. The gin and tonics he predicts will become common stateside are made of more than two ingredients, which means you could soon be ordering a gin and tonic and grapefruit and mint and lemon and white pepper. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it doesn’t sound half bad.
Photos by Daniel Swartz