Chapter I

Otto is a hilarious and chatty Cuban rugby player who defected to Spain during a tournament tour in the 90’s. He ended up being a barman in the hotel in Mallorca where we go every Summer (see previous posts).

Chapter II

Years ago, wild mint grew in the garden of my mom’s country house. My sister and I put it to good use making Mojitos during the Summer months when we were at the house. One Summer the mint disappeared, maybe due to the desertification of Spain because of climate change. Ever resourceful (and lazy) we switched to easy Gin and Tonics for our nightcaps on the porch, where we chatted and reminisced.

Chapter III

In 1701 the Hapsburg king of Spain, Charles II, had no children. This brought about, a massive war of Succession between the Hapsburg loyalists and those who wanted the French Bourbons to take over the Spanish crown. Just about every country in Europe got involved one way or another. Britain took advantage of the mess to take over Gibraltar (which they still hold) and the Mediterranean Balearic island of Menorca, which they returned to Spain eventually. Before leaving, they stole the recipe for a sauce made by whipping eggs and olive oil (and garlic). The sauce, Mahonesa, is called after the city where it was developed, the capital city of Menorca: Mahón. The linguistically challenged Brits changed Mahonesa to Mayonnaise. To get even, some enterprising locals copied the formula for the spirit the British sailors and their Dutch friends where distilling: Jenever in Dutch, Gin for the Brits. That stolen formula would become Xoriguer Gin, to this day made in Mahón. (There is another version of the story in which the French General Richelieu, copied the recipe when he liberated Menorca from the Brits, but it does not have the same poetic justice for our purpose)

Rich with juniper berry flavor, this is not a subtle gin. These are Mediterranean smells and flavors, not a randomly chosen “floral and botanical bouquet with hints of cucumber” for some 50 Euro bottle of ultra-premium gin. Xoriguer is like taking a walk on a Mediterranean island.

Xoriguer is a small family run distillery, so good luck finding it in most shops. In fact, I only know three bars in Madrid that serve it (and believe me, I know more than three bars in Madrid). One is Bar el 32 in Lavapies, Del Diego, which as I have mentioned before is a temple of spirits. The Del Diego brothers make a light and airy Xoriguer Gin Gimlet which just transports you to Menorca. And miraculously, Marcelino in La Navata (see previous post).

Chapter IV

A few years ago, Otto introduced me to Xoriguer, made just one island over. I fell in love (with the gin, not with Otto, although I do love him, but in a different way).

Note: Always drink moderately and responsibly.


My mother has a country house in a tiny village near the mountains of Guadarrama, North of Madrid. We have been coming here for weekends and Summer since I was a child. The village has a train station, a small river, a supermarket, a church, a pharmacy, a convenience store, a couple of restaurants, and a hair dresser, but the most important place in the village is the café/bar/restaurant: Marcelino.

Marcelino sits near the Guadarrama river by the road to a bigger village a few miles down. It was built by the grandparents of the current owners stone by stone in the early 20th C. Since then it is the central meeting point of the village. It is the place where I had my first drink in the smoke-filled bar in the early 80s, and the place where I enjoy a coffee every day during Summer. The fourth generation is starting to work there, making coffee, and serving drinks, no privileges.

It is interesting to see the flow of customers. In winter, the local moms meet for coffee after dropping off the kids at school. After lunch, the old men come down for their card game, in the afternoon groups gather for the tertulia (conversation) and coffee. And in summer nights everybody comes for the barbecue!

The coffee is not particularly good. It is old school Spanish coffee, which means it is torrefacto: over-toasted and with added burnt sugars to boost the flavor and aroma (see my previous post on coffee). But that is exactly what you should expect in an old-fashioned café in a Spanish village. My preppy friends from Madrid hate it, but that is missing the point of the tradition. There is a basic lunch menu, which is handy in emergencies and all day bocadillos -simple sandwiches made with Spanish French-style baguette.

But the real food comes at night when they fire up the barbecue! Outdoors, right in front of the diners. While they will oblige and throw a burger on the grill if you ask them to, the specialty here are the local sausages: chorizo and morcilla. Chorizo is the more familiar as it is spicy pork sausage. Morcilla is the lesser known sibling made of ground pork with its blood, with either onion or rice, what the Brits call “Black sausage” but that is where the similarities end. Morcilla has a strong, tangy but sweet taste. And Marcelino grills the best! The barbecue menu also has pinchos morunos (the Spanish evolution of shish kebabs), and steaks, plus salads and other traditional dishes from the kitchen.

After dinner you can stay until after midnight enjoying a drink. In fact, Marcelino is one of only a handful of bars that serves Xoriguer, a gin made in the Balearic island of Menorca, which happens to be my favorite. But that is a subject for a different post.

Summer excursion

The other day my dear friend and fine art restorer extraordinaire took me on a whirlwind excursion to see some of his recent work. We took the opportunity to enjoy a nice lunch and ended by visiting our friends at the Paular monastery and to check up on them with the whole pandemic to-do.

Our day started with our traditional morning coffee at our local village café/bar/restaurant/social center: Marcelino. From there we drove over the Guadarrama mountains (yes, the ones where Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is based) to the lovely village of Rascafría. We had a leisurely lunch at a cool garden restaurant “La Pradera” (the natural translation “prairie” has taken the American meaning and spirit, being much larger than a Spanish “pradera” which is more of a field, but enough etymologies, and translation theory!)

After lunch we drove to the small village of Canencia. The root Can from the Latin “canis” for dog (oh no, back to etymologies) is because this village is where the kings’ dogs where bred during the Middle Ages. Jaime restored the gorgeous Gothic pulpit at the church last year. A stone’s throw away from the village is a very elegant Medieval stone bridge.

A short drive away is the town of Lozoya. A manorial village as testified by the many coat of arms decorating entrances. The main door of the church is in a beautiful Plateresco style, which is unique to Spain because it keeps the Gothic style but incorporates Renaissance elements. Jaime is scheduled to restore the pulpit there, a delicate Renaissance piece.

A tiny hamlet nearby is Pinilla del Valle, again with a lovely old church and town square. Jaime is working to secure the restoration of the portico of the church, damaged through the centuries.

We ended our excursion visiting our dear friends the monks at the Paular monastery. They are all fine, including the oldest ones. We snuck in for a quick visit. You see, Jaime restored that monastery from scratch years ago, so he knows it well and I have gone on two retreats there -as you might know from previous posts, so I also know it a bit.

After that visit, it was time to head home over the mountains.