El Raval. For centuries, it has been one of Barcelona’s most raw and exotic neighbourhoods. Just behind the gentrified, touristed street that is known as Las Ramblas, sits one of the greatest food markets in the world. La Boqueria is known globally for its bustling, buzzy atmosphere and its generations old connection to this amazing city. It’s true that tourism has started to eat away at the real, authentic local market that has served the people of Barcelona with fresh fruit, seafood, meat, nuts and treats for generations. But it still retains its extraordinary character and its well worth a visit if you’re ever in Barcelona. And just behind this Barcelona landmark lies a genuine local barrio, with a colourful history of tolerance, integration, culture and hedonism.
Barcelona’s edgy melting pot
For years, El Raval was the place where the immigrants settled. With it, like every port area, it brought with it a slightly edgy, bohemian atmosphere. It has been known as Barcelona’s Chinatown. It has been called Rawalistan (due to the influx of immigrants from India, Pakistan and the Middle East). And taking up the centre ground in the area are the hipsters and bohemians that embrace that diversity and who love a sense of adventure. So, it’s no wonder that this diverse, hip and tolerant barrio gave birth to some of Barcelona’s best cocktail bars and Barcelona’s first boutique gin. A local gin that reflects the diversity and edginess of this extraordinary neighbourhood.
So, when we heard about the latest craft gin offering from Rawal Gin (pronounced Raval in English!), we were more than excited. Our heads were full of questions. Why Rawal? Why gin in Rawal? What’s this all about?
A beautiful gin in a striking bottle
So, let’s be clear. I first saw a bottle of Rawal gin on my Facebook feed. I was on the hunt for new Barcelona Gins and this one popped into my feed. The first thing that struck me was its beautiful label. At this stage, I hadn’t even sniffed the gin. But the label said it all. It had a Barcelona vibe written all over it. The diving figure demonstrated risk taking and adventure. It spoke of the daring spirit of this extraordinary city and it paid homage to its willingness to think differently. So, I reached out to the man behind the brand to find out a little more about his story. And this is what he told me:
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what’s your background and how did you get into gin?
My name’s Sergi and I’m from Barcelona. I grew up in El Raval, so it’s been part of my life since the beginning. I feel very connected to this barrio. This story starts after I had been the chef-owner of my own cocktail bar for around twelve years. Bartending was my passion and I’d been working as a bartender for all that time. The cocktail bar was called “Pesca Salada”. In Catalonia, “Pesca Salada” (salted-fish) is a generic name that the locals use to describe shops that sell salted cod, anchovies and canned fish.
The bar itself had a great atmosphere. It was oozing with all the memories and shadows of its ancient origins and all the interior decoration was inspired by the sea. The bar was on the same street that I’d grown up on and it specialized in gins. It was a tiny bar but it served more than 40 different brands of gin. For all that time, I existed in this small island in the heart of Barcelona’s iconic Raval neighbourhood. And this is where I first became familiar with the world of distillates and creative cocktails. Submerged in this gin and tonic sea, I had the idea of concocting my own, special Barcelona gin.
What made you start a gin brand/distillery?
I come from a home distilling background and as with most obsessions, it all began as a hobby. But I soon found that I enjoyed making my own fermentations so much, building my own copper stills, designing condensers, capturing the essence of botanicals through experiments. It eventually became a passion and I decided that it could become a part of my way of living. So, after some “Breaking Bad” style experiments, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and I went off to study Brewing and Distilling at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University.
My dream was to create a one hundred percent local, handcrafted, organic gin. After a lengthy journey, the dream finally came true.
We started to produce Rawal Organic Dry Gin in Barcelona City’s first gin micro-distillery. It was anchored in a small spot, in a tiny neighbourhood, in this beautiful city. And just like the neighbourhood in which it was born, it has a seafaring spirit. So, in April 2019, I decided to moor the “Bar Pesca Salada” for a while and I set sail for my new adventure.
What was the hardest thing for you to do as you launched Rawal Gin?
The hardest part is getting people to know about your product. If you don’t have a large marketing budget it takes much more time and effort to make your product stand out. Especially now. That was definitely a challenge in the early days and it remains challenging now.
Is there a clear philosophy behind your brand and what do you stand for?
Rawal Gin is a local product, organic and environmentally friendly. My original purpose was to bring a level of environmental awareness into the world of distillation. It was also a formidable challenge to build a micro distillery in the city.
Over the last decade, we have been lucky enough to see many successful craft breweries open up in our country. So, it’s a really good feeling to be able to say that I built Barcelona’s first micro distillery and that I’ve transferred this philosophy to distillates.
The main philosophy behind Rawal Gin is “do-it-yourself”. As you can imagine, making gin requires a lot of time and effort. But if you make it yourself, it can also be very rewarding indeed.
Tell me about the gin: what process do you use to make it and what makes Rawal Gin stand out from the crowd?
Rawal Dry Gin is a natural product. We add no sugars or chemicals. The neutral spirit is made from organic wheat and all botanicals used to flavour this high quality neutral spirit are organic certified.
We infuse 12 distinctive botanicals for 24hours in the diluted neutral spirit and then we distill it using a hand-made copper still that we call Rufino. Even the copper still is home made and I built it myself through a combination of speculation, imagination and the practical soldering of large diameter copper pipes. The result was a still that was perfect for my needs. Rawal Organic Dry Gin is craft-distilled in small batches of one hundred bottles. That’s because the slow pace of distillation requires a full working day to produce this number of bottles.
What botanicals do you use and how would you describe the flavour profile of your gin?
These are the basic botanicals that make up the unique flavour profile of Rawal gin:
- Juniper berries
- Coriander seeds
- Angelica root
- Orris root
- Lemon peel
- Orange peel
Through accurate doses and increasing familiarity with each other, Rufino still continues to delight us with a distillate where juniper berries are still clearly in charge. It delivers the essential and familiar character of gin, offering up the refreshing notes of pine leaves with a slight bitterness, which leaves the palate crisp and dry. This delicate distillate balances sweet and bitter tones with warm spice and floral mellowness, all rounded off to deliver a drink that has the unmistakable taste of the sea that inspired it.
What is the perfect serve to enjoy Rawal Gin?
For first timers, I always recommend simply mixing Rawal Gin with a good, premium tonic water. They are a perfect match for each other and by starting off like this, you’ll be able to notice more of the subtle nuances of this delicious gin. We all know that perfection doesn’t exist. But we think a Rawal G&T with a twist of lemon peel and a small strip of Kombu is about as close to perfection as any of us are likely to get.
You have a very distinctive brand and label. What’s the significance behind the design and who designed it?
The design relates to my old cocktail bar, the “Pesca Salada”. This is where the initial idea of creating a gin began. Also, I was born in a port city, so the sea has always been part of me. It was an essential requirement to create a gin that was related to the sea. After a long period of research I realized that an algae called Kombu would be my partner in crime.
I came up with the idea of using a swimmer for the brand design – but the folks at Dorian Studio were able to really bring the design to life. In Spain, we have a saying, which is: “tirarse a la piscina”. This is used to indicate that it is time to take a risk. The closest English expression would be: jump in the deep end. This image of a guy diving head-first into the sea is also a metaphor of my own sense of daring and adventure.
What are your ambitions for Rawal Gin? Will you be producing more gins?
I’m not an ambitious guy but if making gin is enough to make me a good living I will be very happy. I love experimenting with new botanicals so it’s highly likely that I will produce more gins to add to my range. I’m already thinking about organic vodka too.
Where is your gin stocked and how can people buy it?
Right now, you can buy it online from my website. You can also find it in many of Barcelona’s best bars and liquor stores.
Any final words of advice for our readers?
Please taste it!! And if you like it, please taste it again…
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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