10 drinks to order in Spain

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Spanish bar culture spilling into the plaza San Martin in Leon

Spaniards love to spend time in bars and it is one of my most favorite parts of Spanish culture. Spain supposedly has the highest number of bars to resident ratios in the world, something that is not at all hard to believe if you’ve spent any time in basically any Spanish city.

One of my favorite things about Spanish bar culture is that it’s inclusive. What do I mean by this? If you don’t like wine, that’s fine! If you’re not a big drinker, no problem! Don’t drink alcohol at all, no worries! Bars are socially gathering places and the focus is on conversation, being with friends and family, or just enjoying yourself.

Bars in Spain range from trendy and hipster to abuelito bars where older men stand around talk to each other for hours on end; they range from having beautiful decor and incredibly stylish people to places where the expectation is that you throw your napkin, toothpick, olive pit, etc., on the bar floor. While I am especially partial to the abuelito bar, the following drinks are widely available across just about any bar in Spain.

Here are 10 drinks you can order in just about any bar in Spain:

Tinto de Verano  

Tinto de Verano is what Spaniards order instead of Sangria. It’s red wine, called vino tinto, that has soda water, lemon flavor, or some combination of both added. It’s delicious and refreshing and very common to order during the summer months when you’re sitting on a terrace.

Vermouth

Vermouth and olives
Vermouth and olives aperitivo

I love a vermouth as an aperitivo before lunch. It’s usually served with a few ice cubes and maybe a bit of soda water. Vermouth has become quite trendy recently, though it’s been a drink of choice for many Spaniards for years. Over the holidays, I ordered a vermouth in a bar that must have had hundreds of options and I had no idea what specific type I wanted. If you order a “vermouth del grifo” or the vermouth that’s on tap, you can usually avoid this.

Gin Tonic 

Despite being a very British drink, Gin and tonics, know as Gin Tonics (no “and”, so it’s “gin tonic” in Spanish not “gin y tonic” like a literal translation would be) have become extremly popular in Spain over the past decade. Trendy bars that specialize in gin tonics have sprung up in cities like Madrid. You will be asked what type of gin you want and possibly what type of tonic water as well so be prepared.

Caña (beer)

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Cañas and a tapa of salmorejo at Bar Madrid in León

Now, onto beer. Spain is not generally known for beer, especially not the way it’s renown for its wine, though there is a growing craft brewery scene.

That said, beer is one of the most popular things to order in a bar and on a hot summer day when you feel like you might just melt into the pavement, nothing is better than a nice caña, or smallish glass of on-tap beer.

In most of Spain, you order a beer by asking for a caña. If you ask for a cerveza, everyone will understand and you’ll get your point across. When you order a caña, you’re ordering a smallish glass of on-tap beer, as seen above in the photo. The shape and size of cañas varries from bar to bar.

Some bars have several choices of beers and you might be able to choose a caña de 1905 or another specialty beer, but usually when you order a caña, you’ll get a standard light tasting beer. Depending on the city and size of the beer, a caña will run between about 1 and 3 euros.

Corto

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Cortos are not widely available across most of Spain, but I love them so much I had to include then. A corto is just a small caña — yes, an even smaller small glass of beer — or like the name implies, a short one.

In the photo above, the corto is the short caña sort of hidden by the glasses of white wine. Like cañas, cortos come in varrying sizes but they are always significanly smaller in quantity than the caña from any specific bar. Cortos are common in the city of León and other parts of Castilla.

What is the point of a corto and why is it only available some places? Cortos are popular in León, a city in the north of Spain, that has a very strong tapas culture. It is one of the only cities in Spain, along with Granada and Logrono, and perhaps a few other, where you get a nice tapa for free with any drink you order all across the city.

Cortos allow people to order a beer without drinking as much as a caña. If you’re going to be out for hours with friends having drinks and eating the tapas that come with them, you need to pace yourself or you will be full fast. Having a corto allows you to have more drinks and tapas. Maybe at the end of the evening, you will have consumed the same quantity of beer as you would have drinking cañas, but if you order cortos, you’ll have more individual drinks, meaning more tapas. This also gives you the chance to hop from bar to bar more easily.

Clara 

Another type of beer drink. Yes, Spaniards actually really like beer.

A clara is a caña mixed with either soda water or lemon soda, like lemon fanta or kas. Basically, it’s a lighter and sweeter beer.

Ordering a clara depends on cities. For instance, in many parts of the North of Spain, you say that you’d like a clara con limon or a clara con casera (soda water) while in Madrid you say that you’ll have a caña con limon instead of saying a clara. These are regional semantic differences and anyone should be able to understand you no matter how you order.

Ribera del Duero o Rioja (red wine)

Ribera del Duero and Rioja are Spain’s classic red wines, or vino tintos. The offerings and variety of Spanish red wines go way beyond these two categories, but these are the best known reds across Spain and are popular and widely available.

To order wine in Spain, you don’t pick a specific winery, you order by the region. For instance, you can go into a bar and ask for a Ribera del Duero and they’ll give you a Ribera. You don’t need to specify which specific Ribera from which winery, unless you want to. Basically, they will give you a “house wine” from the region you order, except for it’s not really a house wine in that it’s of excellent quality and not made by the house.

Many bars post specific wines on their menus on the wall, so if you can always ask for a specific wine. Usually, the wines that you need to ask for specifically by name are nicer and more expensive, but keep in mind that a very nice glass of wine will maybe run you 3.50 euros, so it’s all very affordable.

Here’s a good example — when at a bar, my dad frequently will ask for a Ramon Bilbao which is an excellent Rioja. You have to ask for it by name and it’s usually a euro maybe 1.50 more than the Rioja you’ll get if you don’t specify. On the other hand, when I’m in the mood for a  Rioja, I just ask for a Rioja. I pay maybe a euro less and my wine might not be quite as good, but it’s still excellent. My dad has paid a bit more, but not by much. Both are good options!

Verdejo o Albarino (white wine)

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Vedejos, albarinos, and a lone cana

Verdejo and Albarino are two well known Spanish white wines that you should be able to order in many bars. While Spain has traditionally been better known for reds, it produces excellent white wines that are receiving more and more attention.

Like with red wine, in Spain, you order your wine by the region, so when you order by asking for either a Verdejo or Albarino, you don’t know exactly which winery or brand of wine you’ll be getting.

You can always skim the posted list of specific Verdejos or Albarinos and ask for a specific type of either.

One of the best Spanish Albarinos is called Mar de Frades. It is from the region of Galicia. It might not be available in all bars because it is an exceptionally good wine. It could run about 3.50 euro for a class as compared to 1.75 or 2 euros for a not as fancy albarino.

Mosto

A Mosto is a very classic Spanish bar drink that is just grape juice. It usually comes in a glass bottle, can be either light or dark depending on the type of grapes it’s made from, and frequently is porn into a glass with ice cubs and maybe a maraschino cherry.  It is a very acceptable adult drink to order if you don’t want alcohol.

Coca-cola or Fanta/Schweps/Kas de limon/naranja 

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A classic summer drink available at any bar across Spain

Any bar in Spain will serve coca-cola. They’re usually give you a tall glass with ice cubes and maybe a lemon slice along with a glass bottle of coca-cola. There is something delicious and refreshing about sitting on a terrace in the summer drinking a coca-cola that came in a glass bottle out of a glass with ice cubes. Seriously. It just tastes better. This is an easy option for anyone in any bar in Spain.

For those who want more soda options as non-alcoholic drinks or for kids, almost any bar will have Fanta, Kas, or Schweps in lemon and orange. When we were little, my sister and I were obsessed with the Fanta de Naranja in Spain. I swear, the recipe back then, more orangey and less soda-like. It’s common for bars to only carry one or two of these brands and ask if you mind a substitution. For example, if you order a Fanta de limon and the bar has Kas, they’ll ask you if a Kas de limon is okay.

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Spaniards doing what they do best — enjoying good company , good drinks, and wonderful bar culture!

These are a few very straightforward and basic drinks you can order in any Spain throughout Spain. Of course, the possibilities for drink orders are endless and I would encourage anyone to be adventurous and try new drinks, especially new wines. You really can’t go wrong if you just pick a new wine in every bar. With these orders, you should be able to go into any bar and feel like you have a few different options to order and enjoy a Spanish bar experience.

 

 

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