“The gin and tonic is the national drink of Spain,” chef Ryan Pollnow tells us when we ask why he didn’t bring sangria to his Napa Valley Spanish feast.
This explains why his Basque-inspired San Francisco restaurant, Aatxe, dedicates an entire menu to what the Spanish call gintonics. On the menu, roughly 80 artisanal gins are classified into five different flavor profiles—”Floral,” “Soft & Fruity,” “Classic,” “Herbal” and our favorite, “Big Guys”—then paired with recommended tonics.
Spain (particularly the Northern Spanish) have an obsession with gin that isn’t widely known in the States, despite drinking the most gin martinis per capita in the world. “The number one most-asked question at Aatxe is: ‘Why this gin and tonic program?'” Ryan says. “It’s not something that people often think about when they think about Spain, but they take it very, very seriously.”
So seriously, in fact, that to honor the gintonic, Aatxe focuses on the spirit itself and cuts back on flourishes (don’t expect any marigold or nasturtium flower garnishes on any of the drinks). For the Northern Spanish-style feast in wine country, Aatxe bartender Sophie Fleming brought along an aged gin and a Meyer lemon-infused tonic to go with it, then garnished it with a few sparse botanicals.
“This gin is Venus Spirits gin from Santa Cruz, California, and it’s an aged gin. They use aromatics like fennel, coriander, cinnamon, juniper berry and sweet orange peel, which is why I’m going to garnish with these things,” she explains, before dropping a cinnamon stick, orange peel and juniper berries into the glass.
Want to make your own mind-blowing gin and tonics at home? Here are some pointers were learned from Ryan and Sophie.
How to Make a Gintonic Like Aatxe’s
- Seek out small-batch gins. Instead of focusing on recognizable, world-renowned distilleries, Aatxe seeks out small-batch, regional gins. “We focus on the artisanal gins that someone’s spent their life creating,” Ryan explains.
- Pick a tonic that balances out the gin you’re using. A particularly aggressive and bold gin needs to be counterbalanced by a demure tonic. At the Spanish tapas feast, Sophie used Bette Jane’s Original Tonic, a handcrafted soda made in Healdsburg, California. She explained: “It doesn’t have as much quinine and bitterness as you would expect in a tonic; it’s a lot more soft citrus, which is lovely with intense gin.”
- There’s no need to go overboard with flowers and fancy garnishes. “There’s so much love, care and attention that goes into the sourcing of botanicals, blends and distillation [in these gins] that we decided to cut out the garnishes,” Ryan says.
- Simple botanicals are a nice finishing touch instead. It’s worth the effort to seek out a few of the botanicals used in the making of the gin or the tonic. A few examples include whole juniper berries, grapefruit wedges, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods.
Check out more of our day spent with the Aatxe crew, and see more about Aatxe and Ryan’s Spanish feast at williams-sonoma.com/aatxe.