About a year and half ago I won a trip to Spain. I entered into a competition with a cocktail menu dedicated to cocktails inspired from Spain. I never would have thought that it would change my life but it did and some...
Ironically enough, one of the cocktails I put on the menu was named, "Take me to Spain" and it was inspired by the amazing gin and tonic culture which resides there. In this post I will provide the ingredients for the cocktail that took me to Spain.
But first... I will describe my experience and how it changed my life. I was so excited about this trip that, I booked it a day early and a day later then the trip that I won. The first day was one I will never forget. I arrived in Madrid and totally winged it. I needed to find a place to stay and how to get to Jerez the next day.
In true European style I decided to try and find a hostel to stay at for the night. Leaving the airport I jumped into a cab and spoke enough broken Spanish to get me to a hostel that was fully booked. Found a second hostel on my own which was also fully booked. This was the first "Oh Shit" moment of Spain...
So I found a corner wine bar near all the hostels that I could not stay at. I did what I thought I should do and grabbed a glass of vino, chatted with the bartender and used the wifi. This would be the first time I ever used Air B&B. I found a room sort of close by, however getting there was going to be difficult without any wifi. I screen shotted the map of where it was located and I began my journey with a heavy hull of my backpacking pack.
I made it to the Air B&B and met a super nice woman who hosted me for the night. She was learning her english and encouraged me to speak english, vice versa. I had a map that I pulled out and she was kind enough to show me where to go for the day/night. To put things into context when I had that first glass of vino it was technically 9:00am in the states, but perfectly fine in the time zone I was in. I began my tapas crawl for the day and indulged in amazing Spanish wine and tapas. It was an amazing start!
Later in the night I found an outstanding cocktail bar called "Bar Cock" featured in World's Best Bar's. It's an amazing setting that sits in one of the oldest buildings in Madrid. I was lucky enough to meet the owner of this cocktail bar and she was such an amazing knowledgeable woman. I of course had a world class gin and tonic to start and explored the menu with her guidance thereafter. Man what a first night. Still thirteen more days to go!
Thank god for my photographic memory, I made it back to my Air B&B and got some rest before embarking to Jerez, Spain. I hopped on a train to get to Jerez, and the ride was beautiful. The landscape was unreal. I was in shock and aw as we passed by olive tree farms, live stock, vineyards, and captivating mountains. I could have rode on that train all day and been perfectly fine, especially with the exceptional service of vino, cervezas, and tapas.
I arrived in Jerez and found a cab to my hotel. There I was able to meet the rest of the group who had also won the trip. Checked into my beautiful room with an amazing balcony that over looked Jerez's gorgeous cityscape. First thing I did was head down to the pool and took a dip. At this point I could have went home and it would have all been worth it already. Jet lag was starting to kick in so I took a long nap before meeting everyone for dinner. Lustau took us out for the first dinner I will never forget. The highlights of this dinner were number one having a different sherry wine paired with each course, number two the royal prongs, and every other dish that was served. Have you ever sucked the brains out of a royal prong? Sounds crazy right... It was delicious.
The next day in Jerez did not fall short. Our group was the first to ever visit the local cooperage and it was insane. A cooperage is where barrels are made whether it be for wine, liquor, or sherry. It's really one of the last "by hand" crafts that's still alive in the industry. Starts with a single piece of wood that is put through a machine to create a single barrel stave. After enough staves are created the rings are meticulously engineered to fit, forming the first stage of the barrel. After the barrel is formed it is sent to the room to be charred. What a beautiful site. They use all the scrap wood & saw dust from the initial step of shaping to ignite the fire. It creates a tremendous burst of flames, almost like a fireball. Depending on the specification the barrel is charred from light, medium and heavy char. I could write a whole blog post about the process, but i'll save that for another time. I'm going to move on to later in that day.
After visiting the cooperage we were escorted to a bodega near by where we tasted sherry straight from the barrel. We walked through the bodega and got a full tour before heading to lunch by the sea in San Luncar. Here I had my first paella and what a treat that was. Washed it down with Lustau sherry of course!
Like I stated earlier, I could have went home within the first two days and been perfectly fine with my trip. Our next stop was Rioja! Rioja was of course beautiful as well, it was filled with more mountains and country side vs. Jerez being city like and close to the sea. We arrived to Cune Winery and were greeted by friendly faces. Here we learned about the vineyard and tasted through their entire portfolio will having lunch in a beautiful room rich with history and plenty of stories. The tour was exquisite. This is where I learned about the special labels on all bottles of wine from Spain. These labels are special because the winemakers must estimate how many they will need before harvesting. You really need to be spot on with this guess because each label is very expensive.Making a dramatic error will cost you a lot of money.
This day was just getting started. We were all invited that night to Restaurante Tondeluna a 2 Star Michelin sister restaurant located in a plaza of Rioja. I'll just describe one dish that I had and if you need directions after reading it just let me know.
See the picture below.
This dish was a tomato tar tar over royal prongs, topped with micro greens and wine caviar. The flavors were explosive, mind blowing, and like nothing I ever had before!
Rioja was short but extremely fulfilling. Next stop Barcelona. Saved the best for last! Barcelona was really a game changer for me. It was the first leg of our trip that was going to involve cocktails which is my specialty. Even though this wasn't the first time having iberico jamon on the trip, this night was the most memorable. We visited the Jamon Experience which is part museum and part restaurant of all things jamon. Spanish for ham. Here we indulged in many different types of jamon, tapas, and beautiful wines from Torres. They were carving the jamon right in front of us. It was quite the experience.
The next day was magical. We took a 2 hour ride to the most amazing place I have ever experienced yet. The Priorat wine region just outside of Barcelona. Here we climbed by car the tallest mountain I have ever been on. This wine region dates all the way back to the 12th century where Carthusian monks hand cut the vineyards because of the slopes they sit on. To this day the vines are still groomed by hand. There is no way to use a machine because it is unusually steep, and sloped making it virtually impossible. We tasted Miguel Torres Priorat and Perpetual. Amazing wines.
After our tasting we drove back down mountain and were taken to our second Michelin Star restaurant of the trip. It was truly special as well. The chef there was our server, sommelier, and put together a fantastic 7 course meal. The most memorable dish served was the rooster tar tar!
As we were heading back to Barcelona I soon found out that we were going to the best cocktail bar in Spain. Boy was I excited and when we got there it did not let me down. This bar is called Paradiso. Home of World Class Bartender of the Year, with tons of other accolades to back up the hype. To this day it is still the best bar I have ever walked into. It was the first time I had all of my senses engaged before event being served a drink, before even sitting down, and ignited before even walking in.
As we approached the Paradiso I am a bit confused. It's just a small four seat pastrami bar with a meat locker to the left. The seats were full with four gentleman drinking cervezas. And then I am made aware of the secret. The meat locker door is a false door that leads into a paradise of modern exceptional cocktails. The moment I walked in I was greeted with "Hola Chico's" which made me feel welcomed.
Than the aromas of this bar were tantalizing. There were different flavors in the air; cinnamon, clove, mesquite, cherrywood, and many others. Lucky for me our company sent me in there for research and I was able to order every drink on the menu to study techniques and their process. Needless to say I closed the joint. I got close with a South African mate behind the bar who had just moved to Spain specifically to work at this bar. Paradiso was a total cocktail experience that lead me to my philosophy of incorporating all of the senses when making cocktails. It left such an impression on me and I will be back soon.
Spain Changed My LIFE, and now you mostly know why. See below the cocktail that took me there.