Spaniards are marathon drinkers with a fairly deeply ingrained schedule of how a day of drinking should go. Acquaint yourself with this primer to Spanish drinking culture.
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. 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 physically).
I was in for a total wake-up call when I moved to Spain. Drinking is a natural and normal part of everyday life in Spain, and not in the way it is for US college students. There is a time and place for different alcoholic beverages in Spain and the Spaniards are marathon drinkers with a pretty deeply ingrained ‘schedule’ of how a day of drinking should go, so let me help you out.
Here I’ve listed the most common drinks that Spaniards drink, along with the proper time and place to order them.
When ordering a beer, you’ll get the one they have on tap, usually in a small 33cl glass known as a caña (just less than a half pint glass). There is also the option to order a botella (standard beer bottle), a copa (literally a cup of beer but in a nice glass), a jarra (large jar) or the universally recognised pinta (regular pint).
The type of beer will vary depending on where you are located in Spain. In the south, we drink a lot of Cruzcampo as the factory is in Seville. Mahou is another popular beer on tap and is commonly found in most bars in Madrid. Some night bars will have a few different bottled beers 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 noon. The beer is always cheap and cold and sometimes served with a little plate of olives or a free tapa, 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.
Cubatas are what the Spanish refer to as mixed drinks, and I don’t mean cocktails. Those don’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, whisky and lemonade or soda, gin and tonic, or gin with lemon 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 alcohol here, my first night 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 failed to understand that he was asking 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 evenings partying. The younger crowd usually participates in a phenomenon called the botellón (these are street parties, and are technically illegal beginning around 11pm and ending around 3am when they next hit the clubs). What Americans refer to as pre-gaming, Spaniards do out in public, usually in a park or an empty parking lot. Some towns may even have a designated area 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 it’s really like to party like a Spanish rock star. A bottle of liquor can cost as little as €5 , where mixed drinks can cost €3–7 each at the bar, depending on where in Spain you are.
Spanish wine, as famous as it is, is 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 (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 sherry. Wine is often ordered with dinner, but it’s not uncommon to order a glass at midday with your main meal. 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 just one glass in the US.
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 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. 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 or lemonade, poured over ice. It’s light and refreshing and, at the fair, can be bought in giant one-litre plastic cups with a straw, often served with a sprig of spearmint or mint on top. Be careful with this one. It’s so yummy that you don’t realise 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 US, as we tend to not draw out our meals into five-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.
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. Spaniards rarely 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 litre 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 midday and ending well past my bedtime, are now some of my favourite parts of Spanish culture. I’m not sure what that says about me, but if you want to come and give it a go, first round’s on me.