Most people’s idea of drinking in Spain involves one thing only—sangría, sangría, sangría. However, most Spaniards see sangría as more of a party drink, and nothing will reveal your status as a tourist more than ordering it in a restaurant—it’s like ordering a bowl of punch to drink with your meal! Here’s a guide to drinking like the locals do; after reading it, you’ll know what to order if you’re ever invited out for a copa.
The Spanish are big beer drinkers, and going out for a caña is a Spanish way of life. If you’re in doubt about what to drink, whether it’s at a fancy restaurant or a local café, ask for a caña. It’s a small draught lager, usually very light and easy to drink. Unlike pints in the UK, a caña doesn’t refer to any specific size, so you could get anything from a small glass to something approaching a pint. In Madrid, it’s usually Mahou or Estrella Damm on tap; in Barcelona, you’ll most likely be offered a Cruzcampo. There’s little difference between them (though Mahou always gets my vote), and you’ll be surprised how even non–beer drinkers find themselves quite liking the taste. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to the fried and occasionally greasy food that’s a mainstay of Spanish cuisine. If you want something less alcoholic, ask for a clara, which is a caña diluted with lemonade. British readers will know this as a shandy and will possibly scoff at the Spaniards’ version, but it’s far more common in Spain and occasionally even available on tap.
Tinto de Verano
Not a beer person? Really fancied that sangría? A tinto de verano is the classier and more common version. Literally meaning “summer red wine,” it’s a cold drink of red wine diluted with either gaseosa (carbonated lemonade) or limón (bitter lemon). It’s incredibly refreshing during summer, and some bars spice theirs up with some rum or sweet vermouth. Definitely worth trying.
An unexpected delight in Spain, Spanish sidra usually hails from the northern region of Asturias. The drink is normally served in wide glasses or cups; the trick is to pour it from the bottle from as great a height as you can manage in order to aerate the cider and give it a champagne-like sparkling taste. Top cider venues in Madrid include Casa Mingo (Paseo de la Florida, 34), Bar Melo’s (C/ Ave María, 44) and El Tigre (C/ Infantas, 30).
Often found on tap in many of Madrid’s older institutions, a vermut de grifo, which is sweet vermouth often served with a twist of orange, makes for the perfect pre-dinner aperitif. Many bars will claim to offer the oldest, the best, or the most prestigious, so it’s worth wandering around to find your favorite one. One recommendation is Antigua Casa Ángel Sierra in Chueca (C/ Gravina, 11), which has been serving its handmade vermouth since 1917.
Spain has a fantastic wine industry, and there are some varieties you must try if you’re a wine buff. Generally, you should look to wines from the north of the country for the best that Spain has to offer. Rioja is the most well-known—look out for the Reservas and Gran Reservas—but Ribera del Duero from the vineyards on the banks of the Duero River is also highly recommended. This region also boasts Spain’s most expensive wine, produced by Vega Sicilia. Cava, Spain’s famous sparkling wine, chiefly originates from Catalonia in the northeast—rest assured that the best bottles can easily give any champagne a run for its money. In the south of the country, sherry is the specialty of the area around the town of Jerez. The enormous Tio Pepe sign, which overlooks the Puerta del Sol, is an advert for Spain’s most popular sherry, demonstrating the drink’s iconic status in this country. Try a dry fino, a dark amontillado, or a sweet oloroso, perfect after dinner or accompanying a bite of tapas.
Okay, so you’ve come to Spain and absolutely refuse to leave without drinking its signature drink. In that case, there’s only one place to go: the legendary Cuevas del Sesamo in Sol (C/ Príncipe 7). In this old-fashioned basement bar, furnished with faded red tablecloths and tiny wooden stools with quotes from famous writers and thinkers painted on the walls, morose waiters will bring you jugs of sangría while an aged pianist tinkles away on an authentically out-of-tune piano. This place is a one-off with an incredible atmosphere, so it’s understandably packed on weekends—get here early and soak up a fantastic Madrid experience.
Originally published on Where I’ve Been