So you’ve arrived in Barcelona and quickly got yourself to the bar. The barman is walking towards you and you have to quickly decide what you want. Of course, you’ve just arrived in a new country and you want to try something different, otherwise you’d have just gone to your local back home. At the same time, you wan to enjoy your drink. You’re looking at all the drinks in front of you but you don’t know what’s good so you end up ordering something familiar, maybe even from your country. Safe, safe but you know you could have better!
Don’t blame yourself though. We all do it. You’re not Spanish at the end of the day so how would you know? Well, I was in that position to. To put it simply, I like drink. When I was younger, I liked it because it got me drunk. Then, when I got a little bit older, I progressed to drinking ale. I fell in love with the taste when I worked in a country pub in England (land of the greatest ale!). I got even older (believe it or not!) and the one drink I could never stomach, whisky, became my poison of choice. When I moved to Spain three years ago though, my palette was completely uprooted.
The beautiful thing about drinks in Barcelona is they taste completely different because of where you are and the people you’re surrounded by. It might sound crazy but even beer tastes sweeter, lighter and more heady when you’re in a tropical climate. Not just the climate though, the people of Barcelona create a warm, exciting atmosphere to enjoy your drinks in. A glass of wine in a country pub? Lovely. A glass of wine while looking at the Mediterranean Sea with golden beaches between and the setting sun behind? Heaven.
So if you do end up going for something familiar, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’ll still be great. Having said that, you’ll be missing out on an even better experience. The Catalans, being that they’ve been in Barcelona a very long time, have worked out the best drinks to complement their environment. You may have to take a small leap of faith and, as I had to, let go of your ‘usuals’. Of course there are so many to choose from and you only have so much time, money and sobriety to play with. That’s why I’ve compiled my ‘Expat's Guide To Drinking In Barcelona’.
I’ve roughly ordered these by the amount you’re likely to consume of the drink (a strange way of doing it, but these aren’t ranked – it’s hard to compare a cocktail to a beer!) and I’ve limited myself to 10 because I want to keep it simple and essential. If you have time for much more, you can explore for yourself and let me know your thoughts. There’s a lot of room for debate! But here’s where I’m at:
I know it may sound obvious and probably many people do it due to a lack of research but lager tastes great out here. You might be used to drinking lager by the pint – and you still can – but try asking for a “caña”. It’s basically half a pint but it means you’ll end up drinking more cold beer than that inevitable last bit of warm beer at the end of a pint. They also use much nicer half-pint glasses (they’re more like wine glasses).
The next question is which lager? Well, you may not always have a supermarket length choice in a bar. The most common beer you’ll come across in Spain in Estrella (which means “star” in English). There are two main Estrella breweries, Estrella Damm (based in Barcelona) and Estrella Galicia (from Galicia). It’s not the best lager in the world but it will do the trick, it’s Spanish (when in Rome!) and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion from Game of Thrones) was in their advert. Okay, I’m digging for reasons now but, as I say, it’s a very typical drink of choice for the Spanish. It’s simple, refreshing and cheap. It’s also common to ask for a drop of lemonade, they call it a “clara”. It makes it a little lighter and more lemony, of course. Craft beer is becoming more and more popular in Spain so if you re looking for something a little more sophisticated, you won’t have a problem.
You probably saw it coming but sangria is a must if you’re visiting Spain. You don’t have to drink wall-to-wall sangria but certainly try it. It is delicious and while mixing fruit (orange juice) and wine may be a sin in some countries, it works really well with sea air and Spanish sun.
This is very similar and equally as delicious as sangria but a little lesser known. I’m not going to labour the point – this is simply wine with lemonade, instead of orange juice. A simple difference, but you may well prefer it. I absolutely fell in love with it when I first arrived.
Again, this is a simple one. Spain makes a lot of really great wine and it’s much cheaper to buy here than back home. I’ve seen wines in England costing three times what they are here. I’m not a wine connoisseur but I know the basics. If you’re in doubt as to what to order, you’ll always be safe with a Spanish Rioja. La Rioja is a region in the north of Spain and their wine is known and loved throughout the world. Also, be sure to have a glass or two of Cava. It’s the champagne of Spain and it’s decent stuff. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised by the prices!
Sherry. Heard of it? Of course. Did you know a drink can only be called a sherry if it has come from the ‘sherry triangle’ in the south of Spain? This isn’t something to drink in vast quantities (you will get very drunk) but it’s great as either an aperitif or after dinner dessert wine. Again, you won’t be able to buy sherry as cheap anywhere else in the world. A well-known and reliable brand of sherry is Pedro Ximénez. They have a wide range to suit all budgets and it’s all great stuff. This is perfect if you want to try something a little different in a restaurant – it’s not such a bar drink. It’s an absolute must if you’re going to the south of Spain and just a great idea for all over!
Leche de Pantera (Panther’s Milk) is delicious. Dangerously delicious. It’s high in calories but it’s worth every second in the gym burning it off. It’s basically condensed milk and gin, sometimes with cinnamon too. So it’s very sweet but it’s deceptively alcoholic too. This is a really fun drink to order if you’re with a group of friends.
This is the Spanish equivalent to an “Irish Coffee” (or that’s what we call them in England, perhaps Irish people call them English Coffees but let’s not get into that!). It’s basically coffee with a dash of either rum, whiskey or brandy. A useful little pick-me-up to know about!
While Gin & Tonic isn’t a drink native to Spain, it’s popularity is booming. There are gin bars everywhere now with a huge selection of gins from all around the world, as well as locally. They are a notoriously expensive place to drink, however, so maybe just go for one or two!
Vermouth is becoming a very popular drink in Spain right now. Vermouth bars are popping up all over the place. What is it? It’s a sweet fortified wine. When should you drink it? Well, the Spanish say ‘a la hora del vermut’ which means at the hour of vermouth (midday). Treat it like a sherry. It’s well worth trying.
If you’re looking for a cocktail in Spain, you’ve got lots of options. Pisco Sour is an excellent choice – although the sour taste isn’t for everyone – but if I had to choose one, I would go for a mojito. No, it’s not originally Spanish. It actually originated in Cuba but that doesn’t matter. It has become very Spanish. You’ll see it in every cocktail bar and even most bars and restaurants. It’s a drink with a great kick and works really well here. That’s why it’s become one of Spain’s most popular cocktails. Got to give it a go, if you haven’t already!