I’m partial to a nice cold beverage sitting in the Spanish sunshine, I mean who isn’t? In Madrid, and most of Spain, the work life balance leans heavily on life, enjoying your free time and relaxing with family and friends.
Most locals socialize in the many cafés, bars and restaurants. Even on a quiet Monday or Tuesday night you will see bars packed full of Madrilenos (the nickname for Madrid locals) enjoying a quiet drink and chat after work.
If you are visiting Spain, it’s good to know a little bit about the local drinking culture, what’s on the menu and how to order your drinks. Things are a little different to back home but its not as strange or confusing as it might first seem.
This blog will cover:
- What I’ve noticed about Spanish drinking culture
- What to drink in Madrid
- How to order like a local
- Useful Spanish phrases for ordering drinks
Things I’ve noticed about Spanish drinking culture
There’s just a much more relaxed view of drinking booze in Spain. It’s not uncommon to see people drinking beer before lunch time and it’s not frowned upon like in the UK.
It helps that it’s pretty cheap, a can of coca-cola is usually more expensive than a can of beer. However, I do think it’s the social aspect that keeps this style of drinking culture alive. I’ve noticed more and more low alcohol or non-alcoholic alternatives in shops and bars and they are really popular!
It also helps that the weather is great. Like I said, sitting in the sunshine with a cold drink in your hand and the sun on your face is perfect! But even in the winter people cram in to prop up the bar.
I think Spaniards are pretty good at drinking slowly, taking their time and enjoying it. More often than not alcohol is enjoyed with food or a free bowl of snacks or tapa is given to you when you order drinks. I think this is genius! Having worked in bars and restaurants, I know this is a great way to help soak up some booze and stop your customers getting too wasted.
Don’t get me wrong, people still get drunk in Spain but they take their time about it and it’s all a lot more civilised. Younger people, going for a big night out won’t start drinking until 11pm and they probably had a nap then a big meal before they got ready!
*RELATED post – Madrid’s most lively barrios and where to have a great night out
What to drink in Madrid – The 5 most popular alcoholic drinks
Beer is the drink favoured by Spaniards and over 50% of the population of Spain are said to choose beer over any other alcoholic drink. Mahou is the beer made in Madrid and is pronounced maaow. You will see it everywhere in the city but you also get famous European beers like Heineken, Amstel and Warsteiner. Other big Spanish beers are Estrella (made in Barcelona), Alhambra (from Granada) & Cruzcampo (from Seville).
Most beer in Spain is lager but there are more and more smaller decent craft beers popping up. Draught beer is served in Spain with a lot of frothy foam head and in much smaller glasses then we’re used to in the UK. The different size beer classes are a bit of a minefield and annoyingly the names differ from region to region. These are the sizes and names mostly used in Madrid:
- Bottela – the usual glass bottle of beer pronounced bot-a-ya
- Caña – a short glass tumbler of draught of beer pronounced caanya
- Copa – a small “cup” of draught beer pronounced coppa. This is a little bigger than a cana but less than half a pint. It’s usually served in a long stemmed taller glass.
- Doble – more then half pint of beer pronounced dob–ley. It should be double the size of a Cana but sometimes its served in a Copa glass just full to the top
- Pinta – the closest thing to a pint of beer in terms of size and shape of glass. Its pronounced pin-taa
- Jarra – A mug like stein glass of beer with a thick handle. Its pronounced yarra and to add more confusion Jarra translates to “jug” so you can get Jarra’s of Sangria 🙂
Cava is the sparkling white wine similar to French Champagne and much nicer (if you ask me) than Italian Prosecco. If it has the DO status on the top that means its Denomincion de Origin is Catalonia, meaning it was produced in Catalonia. Catalonia is where the majority of Cava is made, about 95% of Cava is produced in the Panedes area. Only wines produced in the traditional method are classed Cava instead of sparkling wine and the two main distributors are Frexinet and Cordoniu.
Cava is produced in varying levels of sweetness from the dry Brut (my favourite), to Sec, Semi-sec and Dulche the sweetest.
The main three grapes used to make Cava are:
- Macabeo – brings sweetness and perfume to the cava
- Parellada – brings subtlety, freshness and scent to the cava
- Xarel lo – brings body and structure to the cava
I’m by no means a wine connoisseur but I think a Cava Brut tastes very similar to a non-vintage Champagne. Maybe a little less nutty and a little more crisp but it is much, much cheaper. In Spain they use advanced machinery to mechanize each step of the wine bottling, allowing them to produce and store more bottles at a quicker rate and at a lower cost.
Gin & tonic
I always thought of Gin & tonic as a really British tipple but the Spanish love it! When you order it here you ask for Gintonic, like its one word and it is pretty amazing!
It’s not uncommon for a regular bar to stock 30-50 different types of gin. All proudly displayed behind the bar. There are even bars in Madrid & Barcelona dedicated to just serving Gintonic. Here is more info on some of the best
The first thing I noticed about a Gintonic served in Madrid is the tender love and care put into constructing the drink. To start with the glass is a huge sparkling clean bowl filled with glistening, chunks of ice. The gin is free poured lavishly from a great height and is very, very generous (about 90ml). The tonic is stirred in carefully as its poured down the long mixing spoon and the garnishes added during mixing.
This is all much more dramatic and elaborate then the average gin & tonic in England which is more like a stingy 25ml measure, thrown into a warm glass, with one sad ice cube, a splash of flat, tasteless tonic and a thin slice of shriveled lemon.
I apologize to all those awesome bartenders, particularly in London bars that do offer a much higher class of gin & tonic drinking experience 😉
Tinto de Verano
This is red wine mixed with lemonade or Casera (a Spanish brand of lemonade and soda water mixer). When I first saw this drink lined up in 3 litre plastic bottles in the supermarket I thought it was just cheap booze the teenagers sneak down to the local park with… but it is awesome!
The name literally translates to “wine of summer” and it’s what the Madrid locals drink in place of Sangria (pssst no-one drinks Sangria here, only tourists). It’s served in a tall glass or wine glass, with ice and lemon slices. It’s a crisp, much lighter and more refreshing version of Sangria and my new favourite drink. Don’t knock till you’ve tried it!
Spain has some fantastic wine regions and the red wine in particular is great. Vino Tinto is what the Spanish call red wine. The word “tinto” refers more to the deepness of the colour red and also the wine making process.
The most planted grape in Spain is Tempranillo and the two most famous regions for Tempranillo are Rioja and Ribera del Duero. In Rioja, Tempranillo grapes can be blended with Mazuelo, Graciano, Garnacha, and Maturana Tinta. In Ribera del Duero the wines are usually entirely Tempranillo, rather than a blend. Traditional wines of Rioja are aged in American oak barrels whereas, winemakers in Ribera del Duero often opt for French oak.
Most wine labels will let you know how long the wine has been aged by using the following terms:
- Crianza – aged at least 2 years total including 1 year in oak barrels
- Reserva – aged at least 3 years total including 1 year in barrels
- Gran Reserva – at least 2 years in barrels and then three more years in bottles before they’re sold
How to order like a local
We’ve covered the different names for drinks and the different sizes, here are some tips on how to order a drink in Madrid….
- Know what you want to order – It helps if you know what you want to order as soon as the waiter comes over. Take a quick look at the menu and at least choose drinks. If you’re not sure and ask for more time, you never know when they might come back!
- Be assertive – You need to speak loudly and clearly to your waiter to get what you want or maybe even call out to them as they walk past the table.
- Speak a little Spanish – It is very much appreciated if you try to speak a little Spanish rather than seeming like a stubborn tourist who expects the waiter to speak English. In most touristy areas they do but not always.
- Don’t be afraid to wave and gesture – You might need to raise your hand to get the Waiters attention, don’t worry they won’t mind.
- Be ready to take your time – Having a drink in Spain is a nice relaxed affair, be prepared that the drinks may take some time to arrive and the waiter will not push you to order more, so speak up if you get thirsty!
Some useful Spanish phrases for ordering drinks
“Me traes dos cerveza” = “Bring me two beers”
There is no need for the English style of “please may I have a …” there just isn’t a way to say that in Spanish. Asking directly for what you want in a pleasant way, with a smile is polite enough.
“Para mi, un gintonic por favor” = “for me, a gin and tonic please”
Most bars with outdoor space do table service, the waiter will come to take each person’s order separately at the table. Clearly and confidently tell them what you would like, or you might get left without a drink!
“Me pones, un cerveza” = “I’ll take a beer”
If you walk into a place and order at the bar counter you are asking to “take” or “grab” a drink from the bartender, so the wording of the order changes slightly. You would not use this phrase if you are sat at a table!
*RELATED post – 10 ways to learn Spanish for free
“Gracias” = “Thanks”
Spanish people don’t say please and thank you all the time but when the waiter brings your drinks it’s still nice to say thanks. Just don’t overdo it or they will think you are crazy!
“Dos mas por favor” = “Two more please”
The perfect phrase for when you want to order two more of the same thing. Its quick to say, you can even shout it to the waiter if you have eye contact with them. Honestly, they will appreciate not having to walk over to your table!
“Otra ronda” = “another round”
Or if you’re in a group and all want the same round again a quick circular hand movement and this phrase will get service moving much quicker 🙂
“Disculpe, la cuenta por favor” = “Excuse me, the bill please”
The universal language of waving your hand in the air like you’re signing your name always works beautifully but if you’re struggling to make eye contact and want to get your bill (most wait staff prefer to let you relax and not push the bill onto you). Then don’t be scared to put your hand on the air and say this phrase to the waiter.
I hope this guide to what to drink in Madrid and how to order like a local has explained Spain’s drinking culture and what’s on the menu. Inspiring you to try something new and order with confidence on your next holiday.
Here are more Seeking the Spanish Sun Madrid guides you might like to read…
What your favourite Spanish drink? Do you have any helpful tips on how to order drinks in Spain? Let me know in the comments box below.
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