Photo by Mil Mascaras Communicacíon
It’s likely that you’ve enjoyed a gin and tonic poured over a generous helping of ice into a copa de balón. This distinctive way of serving the seemingly simple cocktail, which the city has gone mad for, is favoured by bartenders not just in Spain, but throughout the world. With its ample supply of speciality bars, Barcelona continues to be a key player in the now decade-long renaissance of gin. Yet despite sustained demand, most bars import the majority of their stock, and many customers still see gin as an inherently British drink. With the boom showing no signs of waning, a small number of Barcelona-based producers are proving that Spain’s gin culture is about more than just presentation.
For self-confessed foodie Lluís Jáuregui, the roots of the Spanish G&T lie in the country’s gastronomic revolution. Nowhere are the signs of this revolution more apparent than in Catalunya, where the Adrià and Roca brothers set a new gold standard for Spanish cuisine that continues to inspire the menus of fine dining establishments the world over. “Bartenders are greatly influenced by gastronomy, and the evolution of the gin and tonic is the perfect example of this,” said Jáuregui.
While it’s easy to find all sorts of gin and tonic combinations amongst Barcelona’s thriving bar scene, Jáuregui and business partner Roger Burgues saw an opportunity to encapsulate the relationship between Spanish cuisine and the gin renaissance in a bottle. The pair set up Mediterranean Premium Spirits in 2013, and consulted some of the top names in the food and drink industry to create Ginraw, a luxury ‘gastronomic’ gin worthy of a place behind the bar of Michelin-starred restaurants. The creative team, all Barcelona-based, includes Xano Saguer, leading chef and co-founder of the world’s first dessert restaurant, Espaisucre; Sergi Figueras, Best Sommelier of Spain 2012; mixologist Javier Caballero, founder of cocktail research lab Liquid Experience; and for the bouquet, Maître Parfumeur Rosendo Mateu, the nose behind some of the world’s most recognisable perfumes. The team prides itself on its Barcelona credentials (with production based just outside the city in Vilafranca del Penedès) and uses the region’s image not merely in “an opportunistic way”, as Jáuregui put it, but to align the brand with its reputation for great food. It’s a strategy that has paid off both at home and abroad—Ginraw has been warmly received in Barcelona’s top restaurants and hotels, and is being exported through a selective distribution base across Europe and countries further afield, including Japan and Canada.
Photo courtesy of Old Fashioned Bar
Ginraw earns its ‘gastronomic’ label in part thanks to an innovative combination of distillation techniques: the traditional high temperature method using copper steel is incorporated alongside Rotaval, a technology developed by Joan Roca that enables low temperature distillation. “This method allows you to use fresh ingredients,” said Jáuregui, “which is a big step away from the classical way of making gin using dehydrated ingredients. It makes a big difference in terms of aroma and flavours. Cocktails become more delicate and fresh.”
Two more gin-loving entrepreneurs are attempting to take the concept of small-scale, handcrafted production one step further. Hailing from Colombia and the US respectively, Pablo Barrera and Brian Burgess met as Masters students at IED Barcelona and founded Corpen at the beginning of 2016. Inspired by Burgess’ research into using distillation to combat food wastage, the pair set about experimenting with botanicals to create their own blend, as well as building a business plan that could offer consumers an insight into the production of gin. Corpen runs make-your-own gin sessions (one of the first experiences available through Airbnb’s newly-launched Experience programme), where visitors can take part in the whole process, from choosing a recipe through to bottling their gin creation. By demystifying the way gin is made, the team is aiming to put transparency and accessibility at the centre of their brand. “People are generally surprised when they see the process because it’s quite easy,” said Barrera. “If you consider that you can make your own little bottle of gin in three hours, it does seem rather simple. Making beer is harder than that even.”
Their gin sessions are laying the foundation for what the team hopes will be the start of something big: the creation of the first gin distillery in the city. Their idea is to follow in the footsteps of craft beer breweries like BlackLab and Garage Beer Co, which have gained a loyal following over the past few years. “We’d love to give customers a similar experience, but for spirits,” Burgess said. “To show consumers the place and the equipment that made the drink in their hands. But the reality of making that happen is a lot more complicated.” Navigating Barcelona’s licensing laws is an arduous task given the limited number of suitable buildings available and the uniqueness of the team’s proposition. “When we go to the Ajuntament, the issue we’ve had is that there’s no guidelines for what we want to do,” he continued. “Beer has its activity code, but distillation doesn’t.”
Once you have the craft experience and you taste its added value, it’s really hard to go back to Gordon’s
Whether the team find a space in the city centre or just outside of it, they have no ambitions to enter into the rat race of the big brand gin names and begin competing on price. Rather, the team take encouragement from the success of the city’s craft beer players, which have proven that customers are willing to pay a little more for a higher quality product. “Once you have the craft experience and you taste its added value, it’s really hard to go back to Gordon’s.”
Mike Cruickshank, owner of Poble-sec’s Xixbar, believes that consumers’ tastes have indeed become more sophisticated over the years. “The gimmicks and over-elaboration of gin and tonics at the start of the trend—something Xixbar has always rejected— actually led to a more genuine appreciation of the product,” he said. “People are now more inclined to want well-prepared simple gin and tonics that enhance the characteristics of the product for what it is.”
Opening in 2005, and making a name for itself through carefully crafted G&T combinations served the Basque way, Xixbar remains a favourite haunt for Barcelona’s gin lovers. Cruickshank travels the globe to source new gins for the bar and uses in-house infused and macerated gins that would surprise even the most seasoned gin aficionado.
Given that he was there at the start of the boom, what does Cruickshank think of Barcelona’s gin culture moving from presentation to production? “At this stage, what makes a good gin is going to have a lot to do with the marketing—some aspect of the gin that hooks the client,” he said. “An obvious example would be a Barcelona gin selling well to Barcelona customers. Sales increase when gin has a story behind it, or a flavour or ingredient that catches people’s attention.”
With the gin craze still going strong, it seems the time is ripe for Barcelona’s gin producers to capitalise on the drink’s popularity on both a local and international level.