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The Spanish gin and tonic with its perfect balance of citrusy grapefruit and lime sweetness, fragrant star anise and natural botanicals, is perfect for summer entertaining at the cottage or relaxing on a sunny patio.
This summer cocktail is inspired by the refreshing Spanish-style gin and tonic served in the lobby bar at the Barceló Huatulco Resort one of the top resorts in the Bahías de Huatulco on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
At the Barceló Huatulco, the mixologist kept it simple. The drink contained premium gin and tonic water with single slices of red grapefruit and lime, garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary and star anise.
What is a Spanish Gin and Tonic?
A Spanish gin and tonic (also known as a G & T) is different from a British gin and tonic as it contains a bounty of fresh herbs, fruit, peels and other botanicals.
This practice is said to have originated with Spanish chefs who’d toss an herb or two in their drinks while cooking.
Today, Spanish G & Ts can include fruit, spices, herbs, vegetables, peels and variety of even more botanicals. At its most exuberant, it can almost be like a sangria.
You can also find this style of Spanish Gin & Tonic served with paella in Valencia and in Malaga, Nerja and other cities on Spain’s Andalusian Coast.
Why We Love This Gin Cocktail
- A classic drink for hot weather.
- Lovely balance of sweetness and bitterness makes it perfect as a pre-dinner aperitif with spicy olives, cheeses, charcuterie and Spanish tapas
- Super refreshing. Thanks to the citrus notes of red grapefruit and lime.
- Cocktail for special occasions. The pretty pink hue makes this Spanish-inspired cocktail a nice drink to serve on Mother’s Day, at bridal showers, weekend brunches or at the cottage after a day of boating.
- Simple ingredients. It contains just four all-natural ingredients.
- Requires no sugar syrups, blending, special barware or complicated techniques. Making it a good option for serving with snacks and appetizers while boating.
All you need to flavor this Spanish-style grapefruit gin and tonic are five ingredients plus the gin. Each one plays a crucial role in the flavor of the drink.
- Red Grapefruit: Try to select a ripe grapefruit with a thin skin. It should feel heavy for its size and have a slight give. A pulp of a red grapefruit has a brighter colour and a sweeter taste than a pink or white grapefruit.
- Lime: Adds citrusy freshness.
- Tonic Water: I used Fever Tree Indian Refreshingly Light tonic water. It’s a lower-calorie Indian tonic which means it contains real sugar unlike American type tonic waters (such as Canada Dry and Schweppes) which contain high fructose corn syrup and British tonic water which contains sodium saccharine.
- Star Anise: It has a mild and fragrant licorice flavour. Adding a few of the star-shaped anise pods gives a unique flavour this Spanish-style gin and tonic cocktail without overwhelming the flavour of the gin. You can buy star anise in the spice section of most bulk stores or order it online.
- Fresh Rosemary: A sprig of fresh rosemary as garnish adds an intense woodsy and evergreen flavour and aroma. It also looks beautiful!
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the exact quantities of ingredients.
Love grapefruit cocktails as much as we do? Be sure to try our Mezcal Paloma Cocktail! It’s one of our beachtime favourites!
What’s the Best Gin for Gin and Tonic?
While I’m a fan of pink gins, purple gins, lemon gin and many other types of flavoured and tinted gins, the best gin to use for this Spanish-style gin and tonic recipe is a clear, dry gin. A dry gin is one with no artificial flavours or sweeteners.
A clear, dry gin provides a nice backdrop for the pink and lime fruit and allows the flavours of the anise and rosemary to shine. Some premium gins to try include:
- Harahorn Gin, an icy, small-batch Norwegian gin crafted with angelica, blueberries, rhubarb and herbs.
- Parlour Gin, a smooth, London-dry style gin by Eau Claire Distillery in Alberta.
- Juniper’s Wit by Kinsip House of Fine Spirits Distillery in Prince Edward County.
- Silky and slightly peppery flagship gin from Black’s Distillery in Peterborough & The Kawarthas, Ontario.
Note: I’d also recommend saving your Old Tom gin (which can be flavoured with natural sweeteners such as licorice or other botanicals) to drink on its own as it has its own unique flavour.
If you’re looking for a few ideas to add additional or different flavours, here are a few favorites.
- Change up the taste by adding a few cardamom pods as the citrusy warmth is a nice complement to star anise and rosemary.
- Experiment with adding a few drops of bitters such as rosehip or elderflower.
- A few slices of cucumber can add interest and won’t alter the flavour.
- Substitute apple slices for the grapefruit.
How to Make a Spanish Gin and Tonic
Making a grapefruit gin and tonic is super easy. Let me show you how.
- Slice the fresh fruit into medium-thick slices. Too thin and they’ll disintegrate. Too thick and they won’t fit into the glass.
- Fill a large glass of choice with ice cubes (preferably made with purified water). Measure and add the gin to the glass.
- Slowly pour in the tonic water. If you pour it so quickly that it foams, you’ll lose much of the effervescence and the drink will taste flat.
- Add the slices of fresh grapefruit and lime.
- Muddle (press) the fruit slightly with a stir stick, spoon or a cocktail muddler to release the juices.
- Add the star anise into the cup. Crush the rosemary lightly between your fingers to release the aromatic oils and then add to the top of the glass submerging part of it in the cocktail. Serve up the freshly made grapefruit gin and tonic immediately.
- Pour the soda in slowly so you don’t lose the effervescence of the tonic water.
- Be sure to use premium tonic water and gin. Our favourite brands of tonic water include Luscombe, Fever Tree and Naturfrisk.
- Fever Tree’s Refreshingly Light Indian Tonic Water is lower in calories and carbs.
- Serve it with Spanish tapas such as Salpicón de Mariscos when entertaining or a Spanish Chicken and Chorizo Stew in the fall.
Drinks made with tonic water have long been popular during hot weather and tropical climates. Tonic water contains quinine, a chemical compound extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree, that has long been used to treat malaria caused by the parasite plasmodium falciparum and other fevers.
The taste of quinine is so bitter that British troops stationed in India and other tropical countries began mixing water, sugar, and botanicals with their gin ration to hide its sharp taste. This led to the birth of the gin and tonic.
Red grapefruit is a good fruit to mix with gin to make it taste good. For many people, it’s the potent flavour of juniper berry or pine that can make gin taste harsh. Red or pink grapefruit can help combat that medicinal taste.
But the best way to make gin taste good is to invest in a premium gin. Taste a few brands and find one with more floral, citrus or spice notes than juniper and you’ll soon be on your way to becoming a gin fan. You might also want to try an Old Tom style gin as they tend to be sweeter.
Traditionally, the glassware used for Spanish gin & tonics is large and round with a sturdy stem. At the Barceló Huatulco, they used a special Spanish-style gin and tonic cocktail glass known as a balloon glass.
You can substitute a large, stemless wine glass, like I did. Or, even a traditional water glass.
More Summer Cocktail Recipes You’ll Enjoy
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Spanish Gin and Tonic
- 1 muddler or narrow wooden spoon optional
- 1 shot glass
- 1 Spanish balloon glass or large stemless wine glass
- 2 ounces gin premium, London dry
- 5 ounces tonic water Fever Tree Refreshingly Light
- ¼ red grapefruit peel on
- ¼ fresh lime peel on
- 1 sprigs of fresh rosemary or to taste
- 1 star anise or to taste
- Wash and then slice the fresh fruit into medium-thick slices. Too thin and they'll disintegrate. Too thick and they won't fit into the glass.
- Fill a large round glass with ice cubes. Ideally, the ice cubes should be made of purified water.
- Measure the gin and then pour it over the ice.
- Slowly add tonic.
- Add the slices of fresh grapefruit and lime to glass. Using the cocktail muddler, a spoon or a cocktail stir stick, stir gently to release juices and oils from the fruit.
- Add one or two star anise to glass.
- Crush the rosemary lightly between your fingers to release the aromatic oils. Then add to the glass so partially submerged.
- Serve immediately.
- Slowly pour in the tonic water. If you pour it so quickly that it foams, you’ll lose much of the effervescence and the cocktail will taste flat.
- This cocktail can be doubled and even tripled to make a pitcher-sized drink.
- Try to select a grapefruit with a thin skin as the pith can be bitter.
- Red grapefruit is sweeter than pink grapefruit.
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
Read more about Michele Peterson.