Beer is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks across the world, and Spain is no exception. Cerveza (the Spanish name for beer) similar to coffee (café) offers good reasons for gathering with friends giving this way “social dimensions” to the consumption of this “not-so-soft” drink. For most of us beer lovers, ordering a glass or bottle of beer is a simple process and the main challenge can be only how many glasses or bottles. Well, it is not so simple in Spain, where ordering beer requires some basic knowledge. In fact, the apparently simple process depends on the dose and region of Spain, as it varies between provinces.
a) helpful notes explaining how to order the beer across Spain – in other words:
Como pedir cerveza en España
b) Best Spanish brands of beer to try
Ordering Draught Beer (Cerveza de barril)
Depending on the size, draught beer will be served in half-glass (it’s Spanish invention), regular glass (“caña”), wine glass (“copa”), long narrow glass (“tubo”) or beer mug with the handle – in Spanish – “jarra”). These names are so deeply rooted in the Spanish world of beer that people here almost never order it by its proper name “Cerveza”, but rather by specifying the size or type. That’s why sooner you get familiar with words like for example: “Una caña por favor”, better will be your tourist’s experience and memories from the trip to Spain😊.
Un Corto, Zurito, Penalti (Short)
This is the smallest dose of beer you can order and is “visually-defined” as a “half-glass” of beer. The quantity of beer (100ml to 140ml) is probably determined by driving safety and laws (assuming that the first “Corto” is also the last one). What seems however to elude any limits is the number of different regional names of this short dose of beer. In Castillia it is known as “Corto” (literally “Short”), however in the Basque Country (Bilbao) it is better known as “Zurito” (apparently in honor of the famous Spanish torero – Gabriel de la Haba Vargas “Zurito”). Interestingly, in Aragón (Zaragoza) this short dose of beer is called “Penalti”. Indeed, such name seems to be more logical given the fact that this miniscule quantity of the godly drink called “penalti” (English – “Penalty”) really “penalizes” beer’s lovers. One must admit however, that it is the most harmless form of penalization so let it stay like this!
Note: The above description of the Short Beer (Corto) expresses tradition, probably determined by sort of “guidelines” for low-risk drinking. By no means however, it should be considered as the justification for driving after drinking half-glass of beer. The amount of alcohol in half-glass of beer depends on the content of alcohol in the beer, while the ability to drive also on many other factors accounted for by limits imposed by Law!
This is the most popular format of serving beer in Spain (note that in Barcelona it is also known as “Rod”). It doesn’t mean however that caña’s size is “standardized” across the country. In most regions (including Madrid), ordering caña you can expect a 200ml glass of beer, however in Basque Country (Bilbao) it will be almost twice bigger glass of beer (350ml). Obviously, the caña can generate some inconsistencies (at least for foreigners). To be on the safe-side, in some places 200ml of the draught beer can be also called “Quinto” (as “one fifth of the liter”). In practice however, the name Quinto is rather reserved for bottled beers.
Traditionally, the caña is a medium-size glass of beer with a layer of foam at the top.
While it is not that popular size for the beer, the fact is that wine glasses are frequently used for serving beers in Spain. That’s why in the restaurant you may have to say “Una copa de tinto (or blanco)” to be correctly understood when ordering the wine. Otherwise, asking only for “Una copa” you may end-up with drinking the beer!
Frankly speaking, the size of Una Copa is very vaguely specified. Usually, it is bigger than the caña, but its upper limit is open, so it can be the size of Tubo or even larger…
Un Doble (Double)
This self-descriptive quantity of beer is defined in reference to 200ml of caña, in other words the format “Doble” promises 400ml of beer. But once again, it does not apply to the whole territory of the Spain. If you would like to stick to 400ml of beer in the Basque Country, you will have to explicitly order it because by ordering Doble you may end up with about 700 ml of beer.
By contrast, in the central Spain (Madrid) the “doble” refers rather to 330ml of beer. In Valencia, 330ml of doble is known as “Tercio” (for what it really is: “One-Third” of the liter).
For some at first “obscure” reasons – Tercio may be also called “Media” or “Mediana”. At first it may be confusing, because the Spanish “Media” means “Half”, so rightfully, we may expect 500ml of the beer based on the reference to 1 liter. In this case however, “Media” seems to be derived from the statistical “Median” value (related to the most frequently ordered size of bottled beer in Spain – 330ml).
Usually, “doble” is served in larger beer’s glass known as “tubo” and comes with characteristic layer of foam on the top.
Una Jarra (Jug)
While “Jarra” can be translated as “Pitcher”, here in Spain (and as the matter of fact in the Metric World) no one really has an idea about ounces and what is a traditional imperial pitcher. In Spain, the Jarra is simply the beer’s mug (usually made from a glass) with characteristic handle. It is designed for serving about 500ml of beer. Sometimes, prior to pouring the beer, the “jarra” may be frozen, to help extending beer’s appreciation fiesta by keeping it’s pleasantly-low temperature over longer period of time.
Un Tanque (Tank)
The largest draught beer comes in the size of 750ml. It is called Katxi (Basque Country), Cachi (Castile), more understandable and promising name – Tanque (Tank) in Cantabria and surprising name MiNi in Madrid. Despite so different local names, on top of having the similar size all of them have another common characteristic – they are served in plastic cups!
Bottle of Beer
The outcome of ordering a bottle of beer in Spain proves that the bottle may not be necessarily something that we had in mind.
In the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, the most popular size of the bottled-beer is 200 ml. It’s called “Botellin” (Botella pequeña, especialmente la de cerveza de 200ml – sort of diminutive name assigned to “small bottle” of beer). Given the fact that 200ml makes one-fifth of the liter, such amount is also known as Quinto (“Fifth”). So, when ordering the Botellin, (in Madrid known as “Botijo”), you will find in front of you 200ml of the golden-color drink topped with foam.
In Catalonia, Valencia and Central Spain the most popular size of the bottled beer is 330ml. Depending on geography, in Valencia you will order it as “Tercio” (one-third of the liter), in Asturias as “Media”, in Catalonia as “Median” and in Madrid as “Doble”.
For the completeness of ordering the bottled bear – quite rarely, it may be also a 1000ml (1 liter) bottle known as “Litrona” (Botella de cerveza de un litro) or “Xibeca” (in Catalonia). At first, it may be surprising, but I’m pretty sure that for many, shortly after an initial shock, Litrona will be considered as a gift from the above and an offer not to refuse 😊). But do not celebrate yet – under normal circumstances, the Litrona is available only in stores, but very rarely in bars!
Way of Serving the Beer
Usually a beer is a beer, be it light or dark, more or less cold but hopefully never warm …. Sometimes however, it also comes with extras and here is one of its most popular incarnations in Spain: not so santa – Clara.
Clara – “Clear” (beer)
Ordering “Clara” you opt not only for the known size but also a content. In most cases across the Spain, Clara is a caña-size beer mixed with lemon juice. However once again some exceptions – while in Aragon (Zaragoza) you may have to clearly specify if you want your Clara with lemon or with soda (generally – with sparkling water), in Galicia you will definitely get beer with soda instead of lemon juice.
Adding to beer’s confusion, in Valencia for example, the Clara with soda will be called Champú and believe me it is not a liquid for an external use (sort of shampoo) but definitely a one for hedonistic experiences. An equivalent drink in Majorca is known as “Cerveza con gaseosa” (Shandy).
I guess, now the reader has full knowledge may be still not about how to order the beer in Spain, but rather how difficult it may be. What I can promise however is, that after ordering the first one, the next one comes easier and with time and quantity of beer, the process is getting more and more smooth 😊. Suggestion – start from the small one (either Corto or Quinta so you will have time to consciously “polish” your Spanish vocabulary and skills in the domain of beer.
Fortunately, the beer in Spain is a social event, an opportunity to gather with friends. So most likely in your first steps in the “right direction” you can be assisted by someone “experienced in the matter”. And do not worry, because in Spain you can practice “beer’s vocabulary” and keep gaining related experience almost 24/7. Frankly, many bars are open almost till early of the next morning, so Viva España!
The most recognizable Spanish brand names in the market of fermented beverages are (here listed in an order of the market share):
1. Mahou-San Miguel group
Headquartered in Madrid, this is Spanish largest producer of beer by the production volume. Understandably, group’s most popular brands are Mahou and San Miguel but also very popular Alhambra, Carlsberg….
2. Heineken Group
Headquartered in Seville, the Spanish branch of the famous Dutch giant surfaced as the merger of local groups: Cruzcampo and El Águila. No wonder – Heineken and Cruzcampo are leading brands. No less famous are however such brands offered by the group as Amstel, Buckler, Guinness…
3. Damm Group
This Catalan (Barcelona) group is recognized for its very famous Estrella-Damm brand of beers. Other brands worth to mention are locally famous Voll-Damm Malta, Estrella del Sur, Valencian Turia as well as big international starts like Budweiser, Radeberger….
4. Estrella Galicia
Behind the name of popular Spanish brand Estrella Galicia, is the company Hijos de Rivera. Other brands offered by the company are Duvel, Grolsch….
5. Canarias Cervecera
Based in Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands), Cervecera is the producer of Dorada and Tropical brands. The company also distributes Guiness, Carlsberg and Peroni
6. La Zaragozana
It’s largely the local company with the dominant position in the region of Aragón; the best-known brand is Ambar.
Important note: As you probably concluded by watching at our pictures, beer in Spain is served with “algo a picar” – literally “something to chop”.
I would say – something to pick 🙂 Usually it’s peanuts and/or olives.