Most travelers don’t go to Spain for beer, but let’s say you’re planning on spending vacation on a blanket soaking up some Mediterranean rays; you need something cold to pack in your beach bag. When tapas and their lesser-known cousin Pinxos make you thirsty, you might not always crave the traditional sangria. Sometimes a clean, cold, refreshing beer is the answer to a day spent simmering in the Spanish sun. Back home, you’d ask for your favorite bottle or a draft, but in Barcelona, you’ll need more than your high school Spanish to order una cerveza.
Let’s explore a bit of Barça beer vocabulary. Una caña [KAHN-ya] or cañita is a small draft beer, usually the local pils. If you ask for this, the bartender will get right to work pouring you a 0.4 liter glass of the yellow stuff. Popular brands are Moritz or Estrella (“Star”), identifiable by the gold star on the label.
If you’d like something other than the ubiquitous pils, ask for it by name. One tasty option is Estrella’s Voll-Damm, the Spanish brewery’s curious take on a German Märzen beer. Its formidable 7.2% ABV will blast through the lingering flavor of the venerable Iberian ham. If you’re thirstier, asking for un litro [LEE-tro] will get you a liter of beer and una botella [bo-TAY-ya] is beer in a bottle. If you have a bottle preference you might ask for una botella de… Not all bars serve bottles, though. “Una jarra [YA-rah], por favor” will get you a half-liter handled mug of draft beer.
Those used to the selection back home might be disappointed by Barcelona’s beer offerings, but don’t despair. There is beer to be had. A surprising selection of bottles is available in corner bodegas. A few well-known brands of German beer are ubiquitous, Franziskaner and Bitburger, and a few Belgian favorites.
Spain may not be everyone’s idea of a beer mecca, but they’ve got something right. The small caña portion is a great serving size that grew out of necessity in the hot coastal climate. Hefting an oversized beer may look impressive, but a smaller glass keeps the beer cooler and fresher, and an attentive bartender will quickly refill an empty glass.
The next time you plan a Mediterranean sojourn, use your words and order up una caña. The bartender will appreciate it, and you’ll enjoy fresher beer like a local.