How to Use Soda to Upgrade Your Cocktail Game

Spain's knack for turning soda into inventive, refreshing cocktails is, apparently, boundless.

Photo: Photo by Huge Galdones / Food Styling by Christina Zerkis

When in Rome, you can order spritzes in a rainbow of colors. In Paris, aperitifs and fancy cocktails abound. But what to drink in Spain when the meal (and the wine) is finished?

While tourists are sipping sangria, Spaniards are downing cubatas, refreshing mixed drinks that are easy to assemble and come in a revelatory variety of flavors. The word cubata is a shortening of Cuba libre, a mixture of rum and Coke that became popularized after Cuba gained its independence from Spain, and is now widely used to refer to any highball or mixed drink. These drinks are also known as copas, in reference to the shape of the glass they are served in, or combinados, which means combined drinks. Cubata, combinado, copa or cocktail,these alcohol-and-soda combinations form the backbone of contemporary Spanish drinking.

The consummate copa is the gin-tonic. Forget everything you know about gin and tonic — gone is the 1:2 mix of gin and syrupy industrial tonic water, the glug of lime juice, and baby ice cubes prone to melting. The Spanish gin-tonic is an art form, with proportions so perfect they would make a Renaissance sculptor weep. Citrus peels are flicked and wiped, lightly scenting the glass with their aromatic oils, while big, cylindrical ice cubes resist watering down the drink.

Wine forms a base for several of the most popular Spanish mixed drinks. There's tinto de verano, a mix of red wine and lemon soda that translates literally to 'summer wine.' Or take its northern cousin, the kalimotxo (red-wine, Coca-Cola, and a lemon twist), a drink with humble beginnings in 1970s Basque Country that led to a trademarking of the word by Coke itself. The rebujito, from southern Spain, is a delicious summery sip made with fino sherry, lemon-lime soda, and mint. While the base ingredients are all the same — wine, bubbly soft drink, ice and aromatic garnish — the resulting mixed drinks are astoundingly different — and dangerously drinkable.

These drinks are inherently simple, which is part of their charm. The secret to sipping success, however, lies in the details. So, stock up on some slow-melting ice, Spanish wine or liquor, and quality mixers and get to pouring at your next fiesta.

1. Spanish Gin & Tonic

In Spain, making a proper gin and tonic is an art form, with entire bars devoted to the drink. Sure, the ingredients might look the same — gin, tonic, ice — but the magic is in the details, from the proportions (tonic-heavy) to the glass (think fishbowl).

2. Kalimotxo

Young red wine, Coca-Cola, and a lemon twist are all that make up this unlikely crowd pleaser, which dates back to the 1970s in northern Spain. A group of friends on the outskirts of Bilbao invented it during their town festival, combining in a stroke of genius the ingredients they had on hand and the rest was history.

3. Rebujito

The rebujito hails from the south of Spain, where the local wine is fortified sherry and the high temperatures call for something cool and refreshing. Lemon-lime soda is added to a base of sherry, muddled with mint, mixed, and served, a favorite for local festivals.

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