From Germany to Colombia, everyone is drinking gin and tonic. But forget a splash of Schweppes and a slice of lemon – these tipples are served with basil, marmalade or the smoke from burning thyme …
It is London Cocktail Week (6-12 October). In the capital, bearded mixologists are creating mad-hatter libations with liquid smoke, ambergris and the petals of a flower that blooms but one day a year. If that sounds a bit much, take refuge in a simple gin and tonic. We know where we are with mother’s ruin. Or do we? While Brits like to think of the G&T as our own (and it was indeed first made by the British East India Company in the early 1800s), in recent years it has become hugely popular across Europe and beyond, with takes on the classic drink that would have the Queen Mother turning in her grave.
“We are in the throes of a global gin craze,” says Felix von Hurter, the international sales manager for Sipsmith gin. “There have been more than 100 gins launched this year, including Russian, Swedish and South African ones.” According to Von Hurter, this is because of a trend for gin-based cocktails, which has trickled down from expensive cocktail joints to regular bars and pubs. “At each step, the gin and tonic swiftly becomes the cocktail of the masses,” he says.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Spain. If you’ve been to the Iberian peninsula in the past five years, you’ve probably been handed a “gin-tonic” in a glass the size of your head. “Spain is gin paradise, and the biggest market for gin in the world per head of population,” says Geraldine Coates, the editor of Gintime.com. The most marked difference between a Spanish G&T and a British one is the glass – in Spain’s case a large, balloon-shaped stemmed glass, the copa de balon. This craze started in northern Spain’s Michelin-starred restaurants, says Jorge Balbontin, the global brand ambassador for Gin Mare.
“Seven to eight years ago, the chefs at El Bulli and Arzak started drinking gin and tonic in a bordeaux wine glass,” he says – to keep their drinks cool in a hot kitchen. “If you were in one of those restaurants, at the end of your dinner the chef would come out with a big gin and tonic. People were writing about this, and the gin brands saw an opportunity.” The Spanish have taken gin-tonics to their hearts: “Even in the smallest bar in the smallest city, they’ll have anywhere between 30-60 bottles of gin and 10-15 different tonics,” says Balbontin.
But the Spanish aren’t the only ones. Worldwide, the biggest gin markets are the US (by volume), Spain (per head), the UK, India and the Philippines. The latter nation consumes huge volumes of “juniper-based spirits that technically qualify as gin”, explains Olivier Ward of Ginfoundry.com, even though they wouldn’t necessarily be recognisable as such to a western palate. Other nations are catching up fast. Gin and tonic is becoming popular in the Netherlands, Germany, Greece and Italy, among others, and is making inroads into Latin America and Australia. Forget a splash of Schweppes and a twist of lemon, here’s how they’re serving G&Ts around the world …
The Spanish may be drinking their gin-tonics in big glasses, but that doesn’t mean they’re falling down drunk in the calle. The typical serve is 50ml gin to 100-200ml tonic, and plenty of ice. It comes with “anything from cinnamon sticks to rosemary to grapes”, says Von Hurter, although he says the Spanish are getting bored with “fruit salad floating in their drinks”. The copa de balon trend has spread to Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium. “We sell almost as much gin in Antwerp and Amsterdam as we do in Madrid,” says Von Hurter.
In Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt, drinkers are swapping beer for the basil smash, a popular gin cocktail usually drunk from a rocks or tall glass. It was invented by Jörg Meyer from the Lion in Hamburg, who muddled basil leaves and lemon together and served them with a simple syrup and gin. “Basil is a big gin trend in Germany,” says Balbontin, adding that it is proving popular in G&Ts at hip Berlin bars including Raval, which is owned by Hollywood actor Daniel Brühl.
Italy, Colombia and Mexico
The Italians have long been fond of gin in a negroni. Similar bitter notes can now be found in a popular G&T, the triple orange, made with bitter marmalade, orange bitters and fresh orange. Balbontin says he has seen the drink in at least five Italian cities, including Rome, Turin and Milan. It is becoming popular in Colombia and Mexico too, appearing on the drinks list at Mexico City drinking dens such as Artemisia and Puebla 109.
Hannah Grace Lodge of Barchick.com says: “Athens’ best bar – the Gin Joint – has more than 90 bottles behind the bar and focuses on serving signature G&Ts with interesting garnishes and glassware.”. Balbontin says the gin trend only started in the past year or two in Greece, but is popular in Athens and on party islands such as Mykonos. One of the more outlandish serves involves setting dried thyme on fire, filling a gin glass with the smoke, then serving a G&T in it.
Craft gin is big news in the States, though it often makes its way into martinis and cocktails rather than a classic G&T. Dan Warner of US-based spirits makers the 86 Co says that some Anglophiles loved G&Ts made with brands such as Gordons and Tanqueray, and have now got involved in the craft cocktail scene.
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