Every country has its own language, its own customs, and its own quirks. Part of immersing yourself in another country’s culture is picking up on these idiosyncrasies and nuances, and in Spain that means learning about a place with a rich history of fermenting and distilling. Especially in the summer months when temperatures climb and siestas become an essential part of one’s day, the easiest way to spot a tourist is to look for the person ordering sangria.
For the Spanish, sangria (its derivative coming from sangre, or ‘blood’) is essentially a party drink, designed to cheaply and effectively get you drunk. The cheapest red wine and hard liquor is slushed together with fruit (like apples and oranges) and maybe given a hint of cinnamon and sugar. Most bar-owners are aware that this is a tourist favourite, and tend to overcharge for this drink. However, tinto de verano, which is similar to sangria, is generally a local favourite (and cheap) in the summer – one part red wine to one part gaseosa (carbonated beverage, like Fanta), and like any good Spaniard you’ll feel a strong compulsion to dance well into the night.
If you’re living in Spain or just travelling around, you’ll most likely encounter any number of sherries, which are generally imbibed in the evening as a sort of ‘after-dinner’ drink (sometimes called oloroso). Spain is particularly famous for its fortified wines which are made from grapes grown in the Andalusian regions, and range from the finos (topaz-colored and very dry) to the lighter colored manzanilla, and it’s very interesting to see what sorts of combinations and different tastes that vintners have experimented with. For instance, sweet sherries like Harvey’s Bristol Cream are particularly popular.
Wine is also a popular drink, especially with the revival of interest in wine-making and incentives pushed by the EU which has bolstered the industry and helped renovate some of the outmoded and decrepit wine-making machinery. Both Valdepeñas and Rioja (made in the Castile region) are considered excellent, especially with any number of meat dishes available at restaurants. Beer, or cerveza, is also experiencing a growing popularity, but for the most part it doesn’t have the same cultural heritage as many of the other drinks. Nevertheless, pubs and bodegas everywhere sell imported and some local beers, and it’s always a treat to share a glass with one of the locals.
If you’re feeling particularly classy, Spain also offers a wide selection of cognacs and brandies, including the infamous 103 White Label, which is a strong amber spirit stored for a year in an oak barrel before being released. It will definitely put a dent in your wallet, however. Another choice drink that might catch your eye is the bright yellow Licor 43, which can be found at any bar and is made from citrus and fruit juices – it’s a good summer drink as well, with a pleasant hint of vanilla added in.
No matter where you end up in Spain, you’ll find local specialties exclusive to that region, and the Spanish are known for their pairing of different drinks with cuisine. The idea of the tapas is alive and well, and in many places 2 euros will get you a drink and a sizeable platter of food, especially in some of the major cities like Barcelona. Regardless of your preference, don’t forget to say ‘Salud!’
About the author: Simon is a writer and content specialist who is addicted to being on the front page of anything. A graduate of Dalhousie University, he specializes in using the em dash too often. Currently, Simon rests his typing hands in Vancouver, Canada.