Spain, the country of the Sangría … or not? The famous Spanish drink is known as Sangría, a cocktail from red wine, orange juice, and fruits, served normally in a large jar, is more famous outside of Spain, than inside the country. You´ll rarely see Sangría on the menu, apart from the tourist trap bars, scattered along Spain´s costa´s beaches.
So, if Sangría is not the typical drink, what do they drink? In this blog, you´ll read all about what the Spanish drink when they´re out for a meal or meeting up with friends. Liter plastic cups with wine and coke, cider poured from a two meters (six feet) height into a glass, distilled blackberries in a shot glass, and liquor in a clay pot together with coffee beans and lemon set on fire with witchcraft songs. Curious? Read to find out!
Beer or wine?
What do you think … do the Spanish drink more wine or beer? Even though Spain is more famous for its wine, in the country three times more beer is consumed than its red competitor.
There are several theories about this quite surprising difference. One is, since Spain gets millions and millions of German and British tourists yearly who consume large quantities of beer, compared to Spain, this augments the numbers of beer consumed annually.
Then, when the Spanish go out for tapas, beer is the most preferred beverage. When they´re together in a bar, the majority will grab a beer to say “Cheers”. Wine is only moderately drunk while eating a meal.
The last reason is, that handcrafted beer has gained a lot in popularity over the years and a lot of people now prefer a qualitative, artisanal beer over a glass of wine.
Fun fact! In hospitality, more beer is sold than water or soda drinks, and in some places is even cheaper.
I´ll continue now to go a bit more in-depth in beers, wines, and other beverages drunk in Spain, and how to order them.
Most visitors to Spain will probably have learned a few phrases before their arrival, or at least to say a few words. All of those that go to a bar, and say “Una cerveza por favor!”, are actually saying it wrong. The Spanish never order just “a beer”, but you order the size of beer you want.
The smallest size of glass available is a “caña”, which holds 200 ml. (68 oz) of beer, if this is too small, there is also a “doble caña”, which holds the obvious double size of 400 cl. (136 oz.). If the sun is burning hot and half a liter is what you need, you can opt for “una jarra”. When at festivals or very cheap bars, they´ll sell a “mini” called for plastic cups which holds a liter of beer (everything from being a “mini”). The first two options are the most common for two reasons.
The first reason is that the temperature can get quite warm, so when ordering half a liter of beer, the beverage will warm up quite quickly, compared to a climate in Northern Europe. Besides that, normally with each drink, you get a few tapas, so the smaller the glasses, the more tapas are served.
For now, I´ve only mentioned the types of glasses used for draft beers. Some beers are sold in bottles. There are two types, the 330 cl (112 oz.) called “tercios” (translated as a third, referring to a third of a liter). Besides that, you have a “botellín”, meaning “small bottle”, which holds 200 cl. (68 oz.). In the east and south of Spain, they use a different name for this size, namely “quinto”, meaning a fifth (of a liter).
The majority of the bars will have just one beer on the tap. However, they´ll probably have a variety of different types and brands of beers from the bottle. So, when asking for “un tercio” they´ll most likely inform you of the brands they have on stock, to make your choice.
So, next time you want to order a beer, you can say “Ponme una caña”, which isn´t even close to what most visitors learn when coming to Spain, but it will prevent you from the waiter asking you what type of beer you want.
Now, since this is cleared, there is one more thing to know about beer. For those who don´t like beer, or if beer is too strong for you, there are two ways of mixing the beer with either a sweet sparkling water called “Casera” or with lemonade called “Fanta limón”. Nowadays they also serve beer premixed with lemon from the tap or in a bottle called “Shandy” or “Radler”.
The subject of beer and wine is so elaborated that I´ve written separate blogs for each one if you want to know more specific information on these topics.
Spain is the world´s biggest wine exporter and the third with the highest wine production. In general, the Spanish enjoy their wine mainly while eating, and less going out with friends, when a beer is the preferred beverage.
Just like with beer, you also can´t say “Un vino, por favor”, when you want to order wine. You also don´t even mention whether you want red or white, nor the size of the glass. In Spain, you order a glass of wine by specifying the region. Even though there are dozens of wine regions to choose from, most bars and restaurants will usually have two standard choices for red and two for white. For the red wine, there is almost always the choice of the most famous region, called La Rioja, and the other one being Ribera de Duero. Even though it really depends on the type of winery, both options can be quite good. Ribera de Duero tends to have more body and a slightly higher alcohol percentage.
For the white, the two main choices are Rueda or Albariño. The Albariño wine is normally with a slightly sweeter taste, and the Rueda wine being drier. This means that when a waiter asks what wine you want, you say “Ponme un Ribera, Rioja, Albariño or Rueda”.
Almost all restaurants have an extensive wine menu, with regions, grapes, and years. For more on this, see the other blog about Spanish wine.
In an exception to the above, in a typical restaurant where a 3-course menu costs around € 10,- ($ 12,-) there is the option to ask for wine which is included in the price. In this case, the only option is red wine and not white, and also the region is obsolete. The red wine is normally quite bad, so this is almost always mixed with “Casera”. A bottle of wine will be put on the table together with a bottle of half a liter of “Casera” to mix. When dining alone, you won´t be expected to finish the whole bottle, and actually, the wine that´s leftover will be mixed with another half-empty bottle for the next customer.
Remember the Sangría myth? Well, there is one sort of variation of Sangría that is consumed among most Spanish, especially in the summer months called “Tinto de Verano”. This cocktail consists of mixing red wine, just like beer, with the sweetened sparkling water called “Casera” or the soda drink “Fanta Limón”. This is then served in a long drink glass with ice and an orange wedge. When the waiter is ordered a “Tinto de Verano” most of the time, he´ll answer with a question whether you´ll like it with “Casera” or “limón”. In other cases, they already have a premixed version available from either a bottle or from the tap.
Another option of mixing wine is with Coca Cola called “Calimocho” or “Kalimotxo”. This mix is less common and mostly drunk by the younger generation in 1 liter plastic cups called “minis”. The cheapest available wine, normally bought in cartons, yes in cartons, and costs less than orange juice, and is mixed with a cheap Coca Cola imitation. 100% Hangover the next day is guaranteed, so I strongly do not recommend trying this variation.
Vermouth, a fortified wine, which gained worldwide fame through the Italian company Martini has become extremely popular in Spanish gastronomy.
The drink became famous in Spain in the town of Reus, 2 hours south of Barcelona, next to the town of Tarragona. From there, vermouth was mainly drunk as a medicinal drink, mixing wine with herbs and spices. The beverage slowly became popular amongst the elderly, since they were the ones getting sick more often, and starting to like the combination of sweetened red wine mixed with herbs and spices. Over the decades the beverage locally known as “vermú” or “vermut” gained popularity among younger people. Especially on Sundays, the new tradition was when going for tapas, people would start off with a glass of vermouth over ice and a lemon wedge.
Now, Vermouth has transformed into a fashionable drink, with vermouth bars opening up, and other bars offering different types of vermouth, and even being served from the tap, erasing the bottle of Martini from the Spanish shelves.
Vermouth isn´t a drink often mixed with other drinks, however, in some bars, there is to option to mix it with soda water, “sifón” in Spanish.
The next beverage on the list is cider, “sidra” in Spanish. Most cider in Spain isn´t consumed sparkling but served still. 90% of all cider consumed in Spain, is in the northern region of Asturias, however, I would like to stand still at this iconic drink made from apples, because of its interesting tradition.
Almost all the cider consumed in Spain is sold in green liter bottles and are closed with a cork. Once uncorked the drink is poured from as high as the right hand can reach above the head to the lowest the left hand can get holding the glass. This method is called “escanciar”. The cider cascades and crashes into a tall and wide glass, and once the liquid hits in the glass it breaks against the glass, forming bubbles and froth. The drink is then consumed into one gup, known as “culin”, leaving just a little bit in the glass. This last tradition is because the custom is that one glass and bottle is shared normally amongst friends, with the last bit of cider used to throw in on the floor and in this way cleaning the glass.
If you find yourself in a typical cider bar the bottle will be placed on the edge of the table and you can stop the waiter to fill your glass. The official rule is that the person pouring the glass is looking neither at the bottle nor the glass, but straight forward or talking to you. You might have figured by now that on these floors there are no expensive Persian carpets to be found, but are usually made out of cement.
If there is no waiter for you to do this, don´t panic, in most cases, the bottles will come with an automatic or manual dispenser called “escanciador”, so you can pour your own glasses without much spilling.
Chupitos digestivos –Digestive shots
This final part of typical drinks in Spain is not about shots of tequila nor Jägerbombs. That´s the reason I´ve added the word “digestive” in the title.
After an extensive meal of either lunch or dinner, a shot of a liquor of choice can be ordered with or after the coffee. Even though you can literally ask for anything, there are four common “chupitos” that are served after a meal, which are explained here below:
The first one is a beverage from the Basque Region in northern Spain, called “Pacharán” or “Patxaran”, made from a type of blueberries (sloe), distilled together with coffee beans, cinnamon, and anisette. The light brownish liquor has a sweet flavor with a light touch of anisette and should always be served cold.
Then the final drink on which I want to elaborate upon is “orujo”. Every wine-producing country has a hard distilled liquor made from the grape skins that are left over after the winepress. In Italia, they call it grappa, in France Marc, in Germany Schnapps, and in Hungary Törkölpálinka (the last one will not be in the exam). In Spain, the name is “orujo”.
Orujo is made, as you might have guessed, like all previous alcoholic beverages, in the north. Especially in Galicia, the orujo has been famous for many centuries … more on that later on.
There are three types of orujo. Blanco, hierbas, and crema. The “blanco”, translated as white in English, is the strongest one with 40% alcohol, and is also the least served (no the Spanish are not that alcohol dependent). The “orujo de hierbas”, made from herbs and spices, has a slightly different taste in each region in Spain, depending on what type of ingredients are available, but always has a bright yellowish color. This drink for a long time was prescribed by the doctor using alcohol, sugar and herbs and spices. The final version is the “crema de orujo”, which is the cream version called “crema”, which is a copy of the Irish “Baileys”, as this drink is mixed with coffee, milk, and vanilla.
All of these are served cold in a shot glass, just like the “Pacharán”. I do have to say that, even though they are served in shot glasses, the habit is not to drink in one shot, but to sip it slowly.
I would like to finish off with two versions of the “orujo” less common. One is made in a village in a mountain range Picos de Europa, in the region of Cantabria called Potes. They have orujo mixed with almost all flavors you can think of, licorice, apple, and even strawberry with chocolate flavor (for some reason in a pink bottle!). They also have a orujo X.O. (extra old), which I wouldn´t recommend spending your money on.
The last one is only to be found in the region of Galicia in the north-western tip of Spain. With the “orujo” liquor they make “queimada”, meaning “burned”, it´s a Celtic tradition from the 12th century made together with witchcraft. Nowadays it´s a ritual mainly containing the orujo liquor with sugar and is sometimes mixed with coffee, apples, or grapes. Once mixed they heat the mixture and set it on fire. In Galician weddings, this tradition is a must and is always prepared after dinner, with some people dressing up as witches with a cape and chanting the same chants as they did in the Middle Ages.
You might think after reading this blog that the Spanish, especially in the north are severe alcoholics, but this isn´t the case. Sure, some Spanish might drink every day, and at lunch sometimes they might have a few beers before lunch, then some wines, some “chupitos” and finishing off with a gin tonic, but this whole process takes up to six hours, so even though they might drink a lot, it´s spread over a long period of time. The Spanish really appreciate their beverage, and always order their wine per region, their bottle of beer per brand and they´ll never order a gin and tonic, but specifically asking for the brand of the gin they want.
I hope this information has been useful for you, at least you´ll not order “una cerveza” but “ una caña”, and avoid a tequila shot with salt and lemon when shot glasses are put on the table.