So, you want to drink like a Spaniard? Let me warn you: it’s an art.
Moving to Spain fresh out of university, my drinking standards were fairly low. I was never a cocktail snob- pretty much anything with alcohol in it did it for me. Embarrassingly, we drank only to get drunk. Our nights out were sprints, not marathons and I was a top speed runner (figuratively, not literally).
I was in for a total wake-up call when I moved to Spain. Drinking is a natural and normal part of everyday life here, and not in the way it is for US college students. There is a time and place for different alcoholic beverages here, and if your not up to snuff on what to drink when, your guiri-ness will be quite obvious. Spaniards are marathon drinkers with a pretty deeply engrained “schedule” of how a day of drinking should go, so let me help you out.
Here I’ve listed the most common drinks Spaniards drink, along with the proper time and place to order them, lest you look like a total n00b.
I hope you don’t like variety, because there isn’t much here. When you order a beer, you literally just order “a beer”, and they bring you the one they have on tap, usually in a small 33cl glass known as a caña, unless you specify otherwise. Which beer it is will vary depending on your geographic location in Spain. Down here in the south we drink a lot of Cruzcampo as the factory is in Seville. Mahou is another common beer on tap and is commonly found in Madrid. Some nighttime bars will have a few different beers in bottles for your imbibing pleasure and I’ve even seen locally brewed options in some bars now and again. You’re pretty safe ordering a beer at any time of the day, starting around 12:00 noon. The beer is always cheap and cold and sometimes served with a little plate of olives, so it’s probably my favorite drink on this list- not only for the beer itself but also for the day drinking that comes along with it. Once the sun sets, though, most people will stop drinking beer. Which leads us to…
Cubatas are how the Spanish refer to mixed drinks, and I don’t mean cocktails. That doesn’t exist in most of Spain, though surely in more modern/big/international cities there are some cocktail bars. Spaniards keep it simple. Rum and coke, whiskey and 7up, gin and tonic, or gin with lemon pop (soda) are the most common. One difference I quickly learned during my first week in Spain is that you must order the specific brand of alcohol you want. Unaware of this and also unaware of any brand names of alcohols here, my first night at the town fair during my first week in Arcos de la Frontera was marred by total miscommunication as I screamed “un ron con coca cola” across the bar multiple times while people stared and I did NOT understand when he asked me which ron I wanted. “uhhhhhh no se.” Awkward. Anyway, once the sun goes down (or a bit before) most people will switch to cubatas to start the nighttime partying. The younger crowd usually participates in a phenomenon called the botellón, meaning the big bottle. What Americans refer to as pre-gaming, Spaniards do out in public, usually in a park or an empty parking lot. Believe it or not, most towns have a designated are where it’s actually allowed for people to gather, bring soda, bottles of liquor and ice, and party it up until they hit the bars. This is obviously a great option for people who want to save money and see what its really like to party like a
rockstar Spaniard. A bottle of liquor can cost as little as 5€ ($7), where mixed drinks can cost 3-7€ each at the bar, depending on where in Spain you are.
Although Spanish wine maybe isn’t as famous as wine from other parts of the world (or maybe it is, but I have terrible wine knowledge), it’s definitely a staple of Spanish culture. There are amazing wine bodegas in many parts of Spain, including La Rioja, a province famous for it’s delicious vino tinto, that’s red wine, among others. In the south of Spain, Jerez de la Frontera is famous for its wine of the same name, jerez- that’s sherry- and Sanlucar de Barrameda has a lovely manzanilla wine. I most often see wine being ordered with dinner, but it’s not uncommon to order a glass at midday if you prefer that over beer. The best part of Spanish wine is that you can buy high-quality wine for cheap! I’m talking a tasty bottle of wine for as much as the cost of a glass in the US. Can’t beat that.
I don’t have much experience with kalimotxo as it is definitely a regional drink that’s drunk more commonly in Madrid and northern Spain. I’ve never seen people drinking it in Andalucía, but a Madrileño I met once introduced it to me and told me it was really common where he was from. What is it? Red wine and Coke. I know, we’re used to mixing coke with liquors, right? But when in Rome! It’s actually not as weird as you might think… try it! As far as I know, this is more of a DIY drink and you wouldn’t order it in a restaurant. Can anyone confirm or deny? It seems that this is something people drink to pre-game and is sometimes made in large quantities, a la jungle juice.
Rebujito is a popular summertime drink in the south of Spain, most notably drunk at the feria. It’s made by mixing a white wine (manzanilla or fino) with a lemon-lime pop like 7UP poured over ice. It’s light and refreshing and, at the fair, can be bought in giant 1-liter plastic cups with a straw, often served with a sprig of spearmint! Be careful with this one. It’s so yummy that you won’t realize how much you’re drinking and the buzz will hit you hard. Rebujito, like beer, is a daytime drink, so once the sun starts going down people will usually switch to cubatas.
Liqueurs are often overlooked in the United States, as we tend to not draw out our meals into 5-hour-long social events like the Spanish. After a big lunch (or tapas at dinner) people will often order a round of chupitos (shots) of liqueur. The most common ones are licor de hierba (an herbal liqueur) and licor de limón (lemon liqueur). They say that this sugary little shot settles the stomach and helps you digest. I say, yum! I definitely prefer the lemon to the herbal one, but to each his own!
Tinto de Verano
A summer drink, as implied by it’s name, tinto de verano is red wine served over ice with lemon soda. It’s sweet and refreshing and is the closest thing to sangria I’ve seen in Spain. I don’t think Spaniards actually drink the sangria that Americans think of- you know, with the chopped up fruit. This is a really popular drink that technically can be ordered all year long, especially since Casera made their own pre-bottled version that can be bought by the liter in grocery stores and in glass bottles at restaurants. Sometimes referred to as a tinto con limón, this tasty drink is usually as cheap as beer- just 1-2€ per glass.
So, have I missed any big ones? Would you be able to drink like a Spaniard? The Spanish drinking lifestyle really hits the nail on the head in my opinion. Drinks for all seasons, day drinking, and casual marathon drinking sessions beginning at mid-day end ending well past my bed time are now some of my favorite parts of Spanish culture. I’m not sure what that says about me, but if you want to come give it a go, first round’s on me ;).