Menorca threw several surprises my way last week. Wild flowers, for one, with fields flush with poppies, violets and periwinkles all dancing like hippies in the sun. There were bronze age settlements for another, and olive oil-soaked cheese, cured lovingly by hand and made from milk gathered freshly that morning.
With Spain, I’d expected tortilla and wine, sunshine and fiestas. And for that, the island did not disappoint.
It wasn’t just that I hadn’t expected shots of the clear stuff to appear in Spain (unlike cerveza, rioja and fino sherry, for example.)
Nor was it discovering the word “ginlet,” a thimbleful of the neat gin that kickstarts Menorcan men the old fashioned way.
For one, who knew that gin was invented by the Dutch?(And since I had no idea who had invented it, why should any answer surprise me?)
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Gin spread to Britain through William and Mary of Orange and apparently British soldiers sipped it on the eve of battle at Antwerp, leading to the phrase “dutch courage.”
In tropical regions, colonial Brits found that the “tonic” for malaria (bitter quinine with carbonated water) tasted far better with a hefty splash of gin.
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, gin became the drink of the poor, due to strange tax laws leading to “gin joints” and “mother’s ruin” as the phrases we know today. Heck, there were even riots when the government attempted to reign in the gin.
As the proud owner of the largest natural harbour in Europe, Menorca made a great base. And the British Naval Fleet moved in…
…bringing with them the habit of gin.
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Lord Nelson’s long since gone but, as is often the case with these curious tales of forced cultural exchange, the culture remains.
Menorca, unlike much of the rest of Spain, prides itself on gin.
But, of course, it’s gin with a Menorcan twist.
The Xoriguer gin distillery overlooks the edge of the harbour that brought the drink to its shores. It showcases bronze pipes that reach up and around and down in the distillery process and offers juniper berries you can hold in your hand (it’s those berries that give the drink both its name and flavour.)
And at the end, after tasting the infamous Mahon Xoriguer gin, you can find new flavours – ranging from chocolate to peppermint to turpentine.
And if you close your eyes (under the influence of said gin) I’ll swear you can taste the flavour of history.
[box]Pomada: an island drink made from Menorcan gin and cloudy lemonade[/box]
Disclosure – I travelled to Menorca as part of a project between iAmbassador and Visit Menorca. As ever, as always, I’m free to write what I like – and drink however much gin I like too. As ever, as always. Hic!
* Now it’s even easier than ever to to get to Menorca with EasyJet’s new London Southend to Mahon Menorca route
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