Agua de Valencia is a famous cocktail made from cava (Spanish sparkling wine similar to champagne), orange jus, vodka and gin (to keep it short). As its equivalent English name “Valencian Water” sounds quite flat (if not misleading), throughout this article we will keep its more colorful Spanish name, better way reflecting cocktail’s virtues. Just to make it clear – the Agua de Valencia has not much in common with water (unless you have in mind the “firewater”).
Once upon a time (precisely, back in 1932), a Café Berlin opened its doors in the heart of the Old Valencia (today Carrer de l’Abadia de Sant Marti). It was run by German-Swiss family (hence the name). Subsequently the business was changing hands as well as its original name. In 1940, as the direct result of post-civil war laws, the name “Madrid” replaced “Berlin” (what can be understood) but in more mysterious twist, the name “Café” was replaced by “Brewery”. Bar’s destiny dramatically changed in 50’s when Constante Gil Rodriguez (1926-2009) took over the Cerveceria Madrid.
Author of the poster: Manolo Gil Labrandero, son of Constante Gil. Source: https://valenciablancoynegro.blogspot.com
Soon after the bar became a meeting point for bohemian Valencia. It was here, in the Cerveceria Madrid where in late 1959 the Mr. Gill came up with the new cocktail known as “Agua de Valencia”. Spanish writer Maria Angeles Arazo suggests in her book “Valencia Noche” that initially, the cocktail was introduced rather as a joke targeting visitors from the Basque Country (Northern Spain). Its name probably represents sort of local-patriotism-boosting answer to visitors, habitually “teasing” him by ordering the cava-based drink called “Agua de Bilbao” (while there was nothing wrong with “Bilbao” it probably did not sound “overwhelmingly” respectful in the center of the Old Valencia). Whatever it was and however it happened, the history was made – the Agua de Valencia slowly by surely was coming out of the woods to finally emerge in late 70’s as the most popular Valencian drink.
As the writing engraved on the wall of the Cerveceria de Valencia states:
“Es aqui, también donde en los turbios 70 surgio la Fuente donde se besaron la luz y la noche. Fuente de lagrimas del Sol y risas de su esquiva amante la Luna. El manantial, que pronto inundó el mondo con el Aqua de Valencia plena de luz de las playas de Sorolla”
What can be (loosely) translated as:
“It is here, in the place where the light and night keep kissing each other, that in turbulent 70’s the Fountain was born. Arose from the source of tears of the Sun and laughter of its elusive lover – the Moon. Soon after, the spring flooded the world with the Agua de Valencia, spreading the light from the beaches of Sorolla”.
Note: Sorolla was a famous Spanish impressionist painter who immortalized the beauty of Valencian beaches (one of his most recognized canvas is famous “Walk on the Beach” (Spanish: Paseo a la orilla del mar).
Scene from the Cerveceria Madrid with Progreso and Pepe drinking Agua de Valencia” (painting by Constante Gil from series “Tertulias de Café”. Source: Wikipedia
Since then many versions of Agua de Valencia can be found in Valencian cocktail bars and on the shelves in stores. They all more or less share the same initial recipe, although as we know “The devil is in the details” (in this case in hands of bartenders and their willingness to follow tradition). The most frequently quoted recipe calls for:
- 500 ml of orange juice. It must be squeezed from fresh, ripe oranges and sieved to remove the pulp.
- 500 ml of semi-dry cava (or champagne)
- 50 ml of gin
- 50 ml of vodka
- Sugar (usually 3 small spoons added at the end to set the taste, so the quantity depends on individual preferences);
- Crushed ice
Some say that Constante Gil also used some secret ingredient to give this mixture a specific taste, but these may be just rumors.
After mixing in the jar, the cocktail has to be cooled to almost frosting temperatures (so the mixture preserves its rich aromas). In larger quantities it is handed-out in the jar, then after stirring with spoon (but without shaking) it is served in cocktail glasses with ice cubes and a slice of orange as decoration. If you want to follow tradition, use the so-called “Pompadour” (short and widely-open) glasses that according to rumors represent the shape of breast of Marquise de Pompadour (influential mistress of the French King Louis XV).
Tips for preparation; high quality alcohols (cava, vodka and gin) as well as fresh, ripe, sweet oranges from Valencian orchards have strong impact on the quality, taste and aroma of the cocktail (sour oranges are not suggested). Do not use orange-based liqueurs, they cannot replace fresh orange juice, and when mixed with it, they kill its natural aromas!
Jar of the Agua de Valencia with glasses and oranges (photo taken in the Cerveceria de Valencia in 1989 by Manolo Gil, son of Constante Gil. Source: Wikipedia – public domain.
Señor Constante Gil retired from the business in 2000 and fully dedicated himself to another passion of his life – painting. His series of paintings titled “Tertulias de café” (Café gatherings) immortalizes the early-years atmosphere in the Cerveceria Madrid and its typical customers. It was a place of choice for artists, but also, writers, politicians and in general intellectual elite of Valencia. The place to socialize, to popularize new trends in art, literature and in politics (the latter mostly after “departure” of Caudillo and start of democratic changes). Many can recognize there the similar ambiance and mystics vibes known from other famous bohemian places deeply rooted in Spanish-culture: Café Tortoni (Buenos Aires) or El Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio (Havana).
Sadly, all attempts of Mr. Constante Gil to protect his original recipe by patent were rejected opening doors for all kind of mostly disastrous ideas. With his departure and arrival of time of full-scale “commercialization”, the original recipe of the Agua de Valencia was often so modified by adding “foreign” ingredients, its name misappropriated (all mainly for tourists) that the cocktail lost its traditional virtues and with it – large part of its local enthusiasts.
But there are also some good news. First – the family of Constante Gill periodically checks many Valencian bars offering the Aqua de Valencia and based on their finding they recommend the following:
Café Sant Jaume, Calle Caballeros 51
Café Infanta Valencia, plaza del Tossal 3
Horchatería El Collado, Carrer d’Ercilla 13.
Also, after years of abandonment and full renovation, in October 2018, the old Cerveceria Madrid reopened its doors, this time under the name of “Café Madrid”. Fortunately, according to those that still remember the Cerveceria Madrid, a lot of its old “atmosphere” came back together with (among numerous other cocktails) the Agua de Valencia. In fact, the new administration put a lot of effort to restore the old furniture, original paintings, posters and mirrors as well as old Valencian photos to recreate this way the spirit and vibes of the glorious past.
Well, the time will show if the newly opened Café Madrid can claim back its place in the Valencian nightlife’s landscape as well as if the once famous cocktail can regain its lost popularity. And the fact that behind the bar you will find one of the best cocktail professionals, Mr. Iván Talens (an internationally recognized bartender, winner of many awards including “National Champion”) should greatly help. Together with the Chef Mr. Nacho Romero, they are expected to put back the Café Madrid on the map of places “not-to-miss” in Valencia.
It may be worth to mention that now the Café Madrid makes part of the luxurious hotel Marqués House.
Address: Café Madrid
Carrer de l’Abadia de Sant Marti 10, Valencia
Opening hours: 8 am – 1:30 am