I’m in Madrid. It’s 42 degrees. My linen suit being somewhat tired this summer, I’m wearing my usual off-duty outfit of Hackett shirt, Ralph Lauren chinos, Paul Smith brogues and M & S socks. I feel patriotic. All I need now is a Union Jack cravat and I’m living the dream. But the heat is having a debilitating effect. I can’t spend more than a couple of moments outside without feeling that I’m in desperate need of a shower. The locals look at me as if I’m some sort of alien visitor, as I might well be. There’s only one thing for it. I need a drink, and fast.
I’ve come en Espana for a fleeting visit to do two things; drink gin and observe the launch of a rather fascinating collaboration, of which more anon. But the gin drinking part has to take priority. Spain is now the world’s biggest consumer of the spirit that once dominated London life, with requests for ‘gin tonic’ ubiquitous in any bar that you visit, from the humblest back street boozer to the glitziest celebrity-owned haunt. Although there are plenty of English and European gins that can be sampled throughout the city, the tipple of choice is Beefeater 24, the upmarket gin launched in 2008, and hugely popular ever since. Like its predecessor, it’s made in Kennington, making it an official London dry gin, but it is given a twist by the addition of Chinese green and Japanese sencha tea. Add some Schweppes or Fever Tree tonic to it, and you have the very finest of thirst-quenching drinks.
The first of these that I managed was in solitary splendour in my hotel, the Hospes, of which there is little to say, save that for five-star comfort and a central location at reasonable prices you’d be well advised to head there. The second was a more enjoyable experience, taken at the city’s hip nightlife joint, Fox. In the company of Beefeater’s brand ambassador, the dashing and thoroughly charming Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge (whose surname, of course, I misheard for ‘Nudge’, leading to much whimsy and hilarity), I was introduced to the Spanish take on one of my favourite drinks. The first step is to produce an enormous glass, like a super-sized wine vessel. The second is to half fill it with ice. The third is to pour in what looks like a quadruple measure of gin, before chasing it with a bottle of tonic. And then the lucky recipient is handed the brimming goblet and drinks it, whereupon an enormous sense of wellbeing envelops them. And repeat.
A jolly evening thus passes. We have dinner at Fox (the jamon is to die for), and then, once the air is somewhat cooler, disport ourselves to the new bar Tatel, co-owned by Rafael Nadal and Enrique Iglesias. Planned as part of a Europe-wide chain, it oozes sleek sophistication and the cocktail list is unsurprisingly vast. I enjoy a concoction that combines Beefeater 24 (naturally) with Chartreuse; the effect is oddly medicinal, but in the best of ways, and it makes for a refreshing end to the night. Arriving back at the hotel at some ungodly hour, I’m amazed to find that people are still out drinking and making merry; does nobody have any jobs to go to? No wonder there are frequent murmurings of Spain going the way of Grexit; they’ve worked out that having fun is the way forward.
Yet, oddly, when I awake the next day, there’s no trace of any ill effect from the night before; Mr Hamilton-Mudge had advised me that the perfect drink to take to avoid any exhaustion is martinis (‘pure and extremely refreshing’), but there seemed to be a similar effect with Beefeater 24. After a glass of an extremely drinkable but suspiciously strong ‘elevenses’ punch, featuring gin, champagne, tea and all sorts of other goodies, it was onto the ostensible point for my visit, namely a trip to the Hackett store for the launch of what they call ‘the Ultimate Summer Cocktail Picnic Pack’. The two companies have been collaborating on the ‘Pillars of Style guide’ this year, offering a mixture of sartorial and cocktail tips and advice, and this hamper is the first joint product that the two have released. It’s certainly a hugely desirable item. The Hackett influence can be seen in the quintessentially British wicker basket and picnic rug, while gin aficionados will enjoy the bottle of Beefeater 24, lavishly accessorised with glasses, napkins, an ice container and what-have-you.
Hackett’s Madrid outpost is the perfect representation of Savile Row abroad; when a four-piece jazz band started playing ‘Bye bye blackbird’, the only thing missing was a London bus and a dancing policeman. Or maybe that’s just my recollection of feverish nights out. The cocktails – deceptively drinkable concoctions involving Beefeater 24, which had become as ubiquitous as water by now – flowed, a quasi-English picnic offered jamon and a merry hour was happily spent in the most civilised of settings.
Alas, we weren’t treated to a Hackett picnic, but the next best thing was on offer in the shape of a visit to the stunning Platea Madrid for lunch. Set in an old 30s theatre, it is nothing less than the most sophisticated food court you could possibly imagine, offering literally dozens of different cuisines and types of alcohol. We ordered greedily and without much in the way of discernment, and regretted it as we soon realised that the groaning platefuls of food would defeat an army, let alone a motley group of writers, drinks experts and marketing types. There are no prizes for guessing the drink of choice.
After all this sybaritic indulgence, I had to clear my head for a couple of hours, and there’s really no better place to do that in Madrid – or in Spain, for that matter – than the Museo del Prado, the major art gallery in the city. With one of the world’s best collections of Spanish art, most notably Goya and Velazquez, but with plenty of other items of interest as well, a couple of hours here refreshes the mind and nurtures the soul, and proves that man cannot live by gin alone. Although, it must be said, on a hot summer’s day, I must confess to looking at the Hackett picnic hamper and feeling a sense of wanderlust and desire for quintessentially English refreshment that even the most grandiose art collection cannot match. Long may it continue.
Find out more about the Beefeater and Hackett collaboration at www.beefeaterginblog.tumblr.com.
The hamper is available in all Hackett stores in limited quantities, RRP £300. Find out more at www.hackett.com.