Friday, August 28, 2015

Ferran's choice

How many more times are you going to talk about tonic water? We get the point, and besides, who cares about the gin & tonic, poster child for the (incredibly lame) Friday night clubbing crowd, content with mass-produced gin and soda gun tonic water. 

I won't stop. My enthusiasm for the Gin Tonic - no '&' - will never abate, not until these silly misconceptions about what it is and what it is not are shattered. But until that day comes, the message is worth repeating. Gin Tonics, like all grand cocktails, are an exercise in utter simplicity. But like all simple things, perfection comes from the quality of its ingredients, and the thoughtful, skilled manipulation of the barman that brings it all together.

Thought. That's a good word, and a good concept in bartending. At this point, I want to just talk about the people in the business I admire, instead of poor, and sometimes idiotic practices. I've been very fortunate to meet many bartenders in Barcelona who I consider to be aces - Dani and Bruno at Old-Fashioned, Davidé of Slow Drink Movement, Cristina who just left her old bar - not to mention Benoit of L'Anima del Vi, but that's for another time. These bartenders have talent, but more than that, they have thought. No, not some overwrought idea of a cocktail with garnishes stuck in every inch of the glass, ridiculous ingredients for the sake of novelty, the great black-eye to the industry *flair* bartending ... nein, if I want to see a juggling act, I know where to go for that, and it's not a bar. What I mean by thought is a careful consideration of what makes each drink special, and part of cocktail tradition ... the guest experience, why someone would order a Martini over a Manhattan, how each element of the cocktail interacts with the other. You notice I don't mention creativity. Such a bad word, creativity, used to cover all sorts of excess. There's room for it, obviously, but never at the expense of the aforementioned. If I order a Gin Tonic made with Gin Mare, I have certain expectations ... I want a drink that expresses the gin I have selected first, before seeing the specificities of the bartender who prepared it. You see what I mean? When you order lobster at a restaurant, do you want to taste a dish that reminds you nothing of lobster, but is somehow supposed to be unique because the chef is a *quote unquote* culinary visionary? No! You send that shit back, because what's the point if an ingredient stops tasting like itself?!

So what do my favourite bartenders do so well? First of all, no one calls themselves a mixologist. My goodness, I hate that word. As a Spanish friend told me we're very cosmopolitan in Spain ... we call them barmen. My boy Dani over at Old-Fashioned is a one-off. A throwback. Outside of IESE, one of my favourite people in Barcelona, because he understands one thing - bars, like restaurants, are about hospitality first, and keeping guests happy is a winning strategy, everytime. During my second year in Spain, I was missing good bourbon a lot, so whenever I'd step through the door, Dani would be pulling out the Yarai and sugar cubes for my Old-Fashioned de Maker's Mark. But his talent comes through in his Gin Tonics. You select a gin, or ask for his suggestion, based on a scale of dry versus citric gins. They use 1724 Tonic Water at Old-Fashioned, lending their Gin Tonics great freshness and expressing full gin aromas. The garnish - as I've said before - is where you see the barman's creativity at work. What I want to see is the selection of the appropriate garnishes that complement that character of each specific gin, and with a delicate hand. You can overload with a glassful of garnishes that looks impressive, but really is just that ... a show, and not a real cocktail. Dani selects two garnishes at most - a type of citrus peel, and usually a savoury garnish that complements that dominant notes of the gin. Of course, presentation and style is all there, but what impresses me the most is his confidence in presenting a simple-looking drink with full aromas and flavours. Putting thought into cocktail making.

After all that - we still haven't talked about Fever-Tree. A superior tonic water to all others, in my opinion. As mentioned several times before, the tonic water is the heart of the Gin Tonic, comprising nearly 2/3 of the entire drink - isn't it important then, that you use a sensible tonic water to hold up your expensive gin? Fever-Tree is a fairly young company founded by two Londoners - story here. I remember the first time I came across it, in a bar called Dry Martini Speakeasy. Fresh, vibrant,  and elegant, all those good descriptors. It has full quinine flavours, yet is done in a way that is so harmonious that it never obfuscates the character of the gin. Fantastic, and yes, it does have the seal of approval from the godfather of modernist cuisine. Unfortunately, hard to find easily outside of Europe, so for those of us stuck in Toronto, you can order here, from Mr. Case.

How many more times am I going to talk about Gin Tonics? As many times as it takes.


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