How the Spanish Mastered the Gin and Tonic

The Gin and Tonic is a cocktail we often associate with the U.K. or here at home in the United States. But if we’re looking at how this barroom staple has changed over the years, and we’re being objective when we do it, there’s no denying the Spanish have mastered the Gin and Tonic.

Why? To begin, we have to look at the origins of the drink, and that starts with the British.

In the 1700s, the British Empire was in its colonizing heyday in places like India, where the threat of malaria was common. They discovered quinine was effective in combating these tropical diseases, and the only way to make the bitter quinine drinkable was to mix it with tonic water, sugar, and lime.

Eventually, British soldiers were given rations of these ingredients to make their own “tonics” whenever needed. Thus, the birth of the Gin and Tonic and the word association we have between tonic and medicine. Later, as famous Brits like George Orwell headed to Spain, they brought the Gin and Tonic with them.

The Modern Spanish Gin Tonica

The first thing to know is the Spanish eliminated the “and” from the cocktail. The modern Gin Tonica began in the Basque region of Spain in the early 2000s in the culinary mecca of San Sebastian.

As legend goes, and as detailed in an article by Forbes, famous chefs including the world-renown José Andrés gathered for a series of culinary conventions that led to late night excursions to the bars and tavernas of San Sebastian. During these after hours events, the beverage of choice was the Gin Tonica because of its light and refreshing properties. After plenty of repetition, the Gin Tonica became an art form, evolving into what it’s become today.

The Spanish have become masters at pairing certain types of gin with specific brands or flavors of tonic. The pairings are deliberate and carefully considered, and though some purists balk at adding vegetables and herbs, others will add garnishes like rosemary, red pepper, fennel, artichoke, and even radishes to accentuate the flavor profiles of their gin selections.

The Spanish have also mastered the temperatures of their Gin Tonicas, valuing coldness much more than we do here in the States. Gin Tonicas are served in bulbous copa de balon glasses that resemble red wine glasses, and they do this in large part because those glasses can accommodate large volume ice. The glass stems also prevent body heat from impacting the temperature of the drink, as well.

The copa de balon glasses aren’t just for preserving cold, though. They also focus aromatics of the gin and its flavor profiles — much like wine — for a better drinking experience.

Are Gin Tonicas catching on in the United States?

Absolutely. Especially as Spanish cuisine becomes more popular, many restaurants and bars are offering Spanish Gin Tonicas served with a range of gin/tonic pairings, in bulbous wine glasses, with added ingredients like vegetables and herbs.

One of the challenges these establishments face is to preserve garnishes like basil, fennel, or bell peppers so they don’t wilt on the bar top. And speed of service is always a challenge, no matter what variety of beverages are served. If you’re planning to serve these heavily garnished Gin Tonicas, and serve many of them, there is a solution that can make your service more efficient and profitable.

The Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station can help bring your Gin Tonica service to new heights. See what America’s bartenders are saying about how to increase efficiency and preserve your garnishes in this short video on the “cocktail cockpit.”


tobin ellis cocktail station