Monday, December 27, 2010

Spain: The World of Beer

The most popular drink in Spain is beer. Wherever you go, you will see people crowding the bar, mostly holding a small glass of draft beer, known as a caña. It is the standard drink. There are advantages to drinking beer instead of wine or a cocktail in Spain. One is that it's cheap. A caña typically costs between one and two euros, which is less than a soft drink. Second, in many places you get a free tapa with your beer. It is usually a small plate of something, it can be as simple as olives, or it can be patatas bravas or a tosta (a large slice of country bread with various toppings). It is not uncommon to make an evening meal out of the series of tapas which will accompany the cañas. In a country that loves bar-hopping, the small size of the caña means you can have your beer and your tapa and then move on to the next destination without being in danger of falling over. When you go out for the night in Madrid, it often can be a very long night.

A beer-related drink that's popular in summer all over Spain is the clara. A clara is a mix of beer and casera. Casera is a sweet clear soda that has been sold in Spain since the 1940s. A clara looks like urine and tastes like bad candy. Another such drink, that I have no respect for either, is tinto de verano ("summer red"). Tinto de verano is another mix (cocktail is too fancy a word to describe it), consisting of the cheapest red wine you can find (possibly sold in a box) and casera, the same soda used for the previous abomination. Don't ask me why people drink these things, because it's a mystery to me. My own mother drinks clara in the summer, especially at the beach.

As long as you avoid the drinks above, beer in Spain is cold and cheap and often decent. Each region in Spain carries different types of beer on tap. I usually prefer wine to beer, and I've spent years thinking the beer in Spain is not exceptional. It turns out things have changed and there's excellent beer in Spain. In the last year of living in Madrid, I've made two great discoveries: Rosita and Inedit.

Rosita is an artisanal beer from Tarragona, in the Catalonia region of Spain. I am very impressed with this beer. It comes in three varieties: the original (yellow label), ivory (white label), and black with hazelnuts (tan label). All of them are delicious, big flavored and have a strong body. All three beers taste toasted and fruity, with a complex aftertaste. The original and the ivory are both pale lagers (although the ivory is paler). They are made in small batches using only water, malt, hops, yeast, sugar and honey. No preservatives are used. The black beer with hazelnuts is my favorite: it is dark with a hint of sweetness, and I love it. I am not sure this beer can be found outside Spain, but it is worth looking for it. In Spain, it costs 2 euros per small bottle at the supermarket.

Another great beer is Inedit. It comes both in 75 cl and 50 cl in dark bottles with a star. This is a pale lager the color of straw. The most remarkable thing about this beer is that it has tiny bubbles, kind of like champagne, which give it a fabulous texture. The flavor is complex, with a hint of fruit and a pleasant soft bitterness. You can taste the mix of barley and wheat. It is made by Estrella Damm, one of the largest beer breweries in Spain. Adrian Ferra of El Bulli with his team was in charge of developing this gourmet beer. Inedit, the large bottle, costs 4.50 euros in the store.
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17 comments:

  1. I think I must have been born in the wrong country. Each post I read about Spain I think, "see? I'm not the only one who likes "fill in the blank."
    Breakfast? Never have cared for it.
    Dinner? Can't eat dinner before 8.
    Small plates, beer and a leisurely paced dinner? I'm in.

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  2. You need to visit Spain, Michelle! It's clearly your kind of place :)

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  3. I visited southern Spain many years ago, I was maybe 15 at the time. We stayed in Barcelona. It was just a little R&R trip while we were living in Egypt. I would love to go back and explore more of the country.

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  4. This ick has addled my brain. Barcelona isn't southern Spain and that's not where we went. Ha. We visited Malaga.

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  5. Time for a new visit, don't you think? I would visit Barcelona and Seville on the next trip if I were you. Other places too, of course. I hope today you wake up all healed!

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  6. I have to defend the traditional tinto de verano and clara!!
    First of all, I don´t drink beer at all, not a caña, not a clara, not a litrona nothing at all.. but I have to say that eveyone I know has tinto de verano in the summer and it is similar to sangría and you have respect for sangría!! I think that people drink claras because they go very well against thirst and they are not as bitter as just beer.
    There are also two kinds of claras: clara de casera (the one you described) and clara de limón (which has instead of casera fanta de limón)- I think that the last one is better than the casera one, many people I know have clara de limon.
    Besos!

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  7. Tinto de verano is an insult to wine lovers in the world! The clara de limon is marginally better than the regular clara, but I find it hard to drink. And I don't think it quenches thirst.

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  8. I encourage you not only to defend tinto de verano and clara, but to keep them. Tinto de verano is vile. It is always made with a wine that is otherwise undrinkable, and it is scarcely improved by the additional of the casera, which is sickly sweet. I think they are not even close to sangria, which I enjoy greatly, but rather are near wine coolers, drinks for people who don't like to drink. The claras actually manage to taste even worse than the tinto de verano. The bitterness of the beer is its primary taste. It is just awful when mixed with sweet soda.

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  9. Let´s not talk about calimocho then!!! :)

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  10. I guess it is all a question of taste! that´s all.. with so much wine in the country, it is better to recycle the bad one to make these things rather than to just throw it away!!!!

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  11. Wow! I had never even heard of that before! Coke and wine! That's something. I like the carajillo (brandy and coffee). I just don't like the sweet drinks.

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  12. Calimocho! Me hace acordar a la sangria Don Simon en tetrabrik!

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  13. Calimocho is just disgusting.. all of the kids when they are 13 or so, start drinking this beverage.. because it is cheap!!! so nasty!! aggggg

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  14. jajaja.. a mi también Ani.. de hecho se hace con don simon y coca cola!

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  15. I say with pride that my teenage years don't include time drinking calimocho. Litronas, maybe, but calimocho, never!

    PS: Litronas are the one-liter bottles of beer, popular at one time (maybe still) among teenagers sitting in the street in the evenings.

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  16. oh, that is just gorgeous! I love it! ☺

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  17. Spaniards are constantly drinking beer.

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