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Spain is a stunning country, well known for its beautiful beaches, friendly people, colourful villages, their festivals and rich Spanish culture, and Spanish cuisine plays a very important part of this culture. Sangria, paella, and Spanish wines are all world famous and every visitor to Spain should definitely try at least a pan of paella with sangria. But did you know that Spanish food is so much more than just paella?
Having a drink together plays an important part of Spanish daily life, and since Spain is a land full of traditions, it’s should come as no surprise there is such a wide variety of Spanish drinks. With that said, it can get a bit overwhelming when trying to decide what to drink and what is available from which region. So, we asked some fellow travel and food experts to share their favourite Spanish drink, and as with paella and Spanish food, I can already say there is so much more available then Sangria and Spanish wine. Just be sure that when visiting the country and planning activities to do in Spain, food and drinks should be a part of it.
Spain is among the top 5 gin-drinking nations in the world and they even have the last gin with a protected Designation of Origin in the EU – Xoriguer Mahon Gin, made on the island of Menorca. So it should be no surprise that they have created their own style of gin drink.
The Spanish Gin Tonic is not just any gin and tonic. This drink originates in the Basque region of Northern Spain and is characterised by the use of a ‘Copa de Balon’ (balloon) glass to make the drink. The story is that chefs used the Bordeaux wine glasses in their restaurants to make a gin and tonic to cool down after a hot service. The style of glass is key here – it allowed lots of larger cubes of ice to be added to the drink to keep it cool and also results in less dilution. The long stem also allowed the glass to be held without hot hands warming it up. Spirit measures in Spain are generally larger and the Gin Tonic is always a minimum of a double shot of gin, with a full glass of ice, topped up with tonic. It isn’t a Gin Tonic without a garnish of something usually found in the kitchen, this could be classic citrus, or other fruit, herbs and even spices. It makes a great aperitif on a hot summer’s evening and goes well with pincho (Northern Spanish bar snacks).
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Drinking a glass of bubbly Cava was one of my favourite things to do in Barcelona! If like me, sparkling wine is your drink of choice, then you simply have to give Cava a try when visiting Spain.
Cava, which is Spain’s equivalent to French Champagne, is largely produced in Catalonia and utilizes much of the same processes used for making Champagne, with the main differences being the grapes used, the climate and of course where it is produced. Currently, in Spain, there are only 8 recognized Cava producing regions who have to follow strict protocols and processed to be classified as Cava producers.
This light and sparkling wine is generally either of White or Rosé varieties and range in both age and sweetness, from the very dry Extra Brut through to the sweet Dulce.
Today it is the favoured drink for celebrating special occasions across Spain and can be paired with tapas, fish dishes, cheeses or sweet desserts (for the sweeter varieties). My favourite though is to enjoy a lovely glass of crisp Cava over a scrumptious brunch!
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Sangria is one of the most popular fruit punches all over the world today and it is common knowledge that this red wine-based fruit punch is Spanish. You can find this fruity drink in bars all over Spain, wherever you find tourists, locals are not often seen drinking Sangria in a bar. Walking the Camino de Santiago we enjoyed Sangria several times when going out with other pilgrims. In ancient times a lot of the water was not safe to drink and the Spanish added wine to kill bacteria and fruit to make it more palatable. Today locals mainly drink sangria at parties and festivals. It is popular in touristy bars and restaurants serving it in pitchers with ice. The story about the international popularity of the drink goes that at the World Fair in New York, USA in the 1960’s Madrid had a display and introduced Americans to the drink. From here it spread and achieved legendary status and became one of the most famous Spanish drinks.
Sangria is typically made from red wine, fruit juices, soda water, fruit and sometimes brandy is added. To make good Sangria, use good wine, Rioja wine is popular to create those authentic Spanish flavours. Let it chill overnight after mixing your components allowing the fruit flavours to blend into the drink and serve chilled.
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Jerez de la Frontera is known in Spain for three things: horses, flamenco and sherry. Sherry is a fortified wine that can only be produced in the South of Spain, inside the sherry triangle delimited by Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria and San Lucar de Barrameda. If a wine is fortified it means that it has been mixed with a distilled spirit – brandy in the case of sherry. They are then aged through the solera method, which implies blending in old and new wines to increase the flavour of the final product.
With its roots inside a moisture-retaining soil and the plant bearing the high humidity coming from the sea, the Palomino grapes have a distinct earthy flavour that is maintained through the distillation process. Contrary to most of people’s beliefs, sherry is actually a very dry, clear, white wine. It is usually paired with seafood or salty foods. It is very crisp and refreshing.
The sherry most people know it is called “cream” (it is not creamy though) and it is made from Pedro Ximenez grapes, which are dried under the hot sun to preserve the natural sweetness. The thick liquid is fortified and then aged the same way as the Palomino grapes, resulting in the dessert wine which our grandparents love to drink after dinner.
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Tinto de verano
Tinto de Verano is one of the most popular drinks in Spain during Summer. Tinto de Verano was born in Andalucia, in Cordoba more exactly, when a restaurant owner mixed lemonade with red wine to create a refreshing drink for its customers. The drink became very popular and extended all over Spain.
Tinto de Verano is a very easy drink to make, by mixing Casera with house red wine and a slice of lemon. Casera is a brand of light fizzy drink found in Spain, flavoured with lemon and sugar. If you want to make tinto de verano at home but you don’t have Casera, no worries, as Sprite will do a similar job.
When going out, Spanish usually don’t order sangria but tinto de verano. Compared to sangria, which is considered an expensive touristy drink usually offered in more upscale restaurants, tinto de verano is served at local bars for less than 2 euros a glass. It is the perfect summer refreshment.
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Ronmiel is a lesser-known drink of Spain. It literally means ‘honey rum’ and it comes from the Canary Islands, the complete name being ronmiel de Canarias. As you can imagine, Ronmiel is a sweet, amber colour drink. It is best served simple cold or on ice, but it can also be served with a twist of lime or a sprinkle of cinnamon. Some restaurants in the Canary Islands offer a ‘chupito’ on the house to finish the meal. That’s a small glass of honey rum and this practice made the drink very popular among the tourists there.
I don’t particularly like liqueurs or sweet drinks but this honey rum won me instantly. It is not as strong as regular rum is and it leaves a pleasant after taste in your mouth. You can also use it to make a slightly different Mojito cocktail that you won’t need any extra sugar for. Unfortunately, it is pretty hard to find this drink elsewhere, even in Spain, so if you have the chance to taste it, don’t hesitate.
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Sidra is a very popular Spanish drink from northern Spain especially in the region of Asturias. The drink is a cider with alcoholic content. It is a tasty sparkling Spanish beverage that locals drink to accompany the hearty stews and roasts of northern Spain. What’s really interesting about sidra is HOW it is served. The servers hold the bottle about one meter away from the glass and pour it in without missing a drop! It is quite a spectacle.
The best place to see this legendary pouring is on Gascona Street in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. It is here where you can find the best restaurants specializing in the famed traditional Asturian cuisine. Walk-in and out of restaurants on Gascona Street, listen to the local musicians, enjoy the delicious food and sample the sidra. You can’t beat it!
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Whether you have already been to the Canary Islands – and this special coffee has conquered you – or if you are curious, read on to find out how you can enjoy an authentic Canarian barraquito wherever you are. Also called Zaperoco in the north of Tenerife, the barraquito is a type of drink made from coffee from the Canary Islands. Nonetheless, I discovered its existence on the wonderful – and incredibly photogenic – island of La Palma.
Luckily, it is very easy to prepare it if, one by one, you put the following ingredients in the same order in a glass cup:
1. Some condensed milk. The essential touch of this Canarian coffee and what will give it that sweet flavour that delights everyone who tries it.
2. A touch of Licor 43 or Tia Maria, sweet liqueurs.
3. Some normal or decaf coffee.
4. Some cow’s milk or vegetable milk, such as soy milk.
5. A little milk foam. Although unusual, whipped cream is also used.
6. A little ground or raw cinnamon. Sprinkle over the milk foam or whipped cream.
7. A touch of lemon. A slice of the lemon peel, to garnish at the end.
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Agua de Valencia
If you’re a cocktail kind of person, you must try Agua de Valencia (translating to ‘Valencian Water’). This yummy, refreshing drink is made from a base of cava (or champagne), orange juice (made with Valencian oranges), jin, vodka, and a little bit of sugar. Unlike other Spanish drinks that exist for centuries, this one was invented in the city of Valencia in 1959 in the bar Cafe Madrid by the owner – Constante Gil.
The story of how this drink was born says that a group of Basque travellers used to come to the bar and order cava, referring to it as ‘Agua de Bilbao’ as they do in the Basque Country region. Tired of drinking the same thing all the time, they challenged the owner to invent a new drink. Upgrading their glass of cava, he offered them to try his ‘Agua de Valencia.’ They, of course, liked it so much, they continued to drink it regularly. Over the last decades, this Spanish cocktail has become more and more popular, and you’ll find it in almost every bar in Valencia. If you’re looking for specific recommendations, try it in Cafe de las Horas or Cafe Sant Jaume.
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Ratafia is a traditional Catalan liquor. Mainly made in rural areas of Catalonia, Ratafia is a very historic and authentic Spanish drink. Catalans have been making it for over a thousand years! If you love to discover the local culture during your travels, Ratafia is a must-try in Barcelona!
This liquor is made with walnuts and aromatic herbs. The mixture macerates for at least a couple of months and is then aged in a wooden barrel.
The recipe itself is probably Catalonia’s best-kept secret! It varies depending on the location and family. This drink is made at home, very often by grandparents and shared with family and friends. This means that there are a multitude of recipes and no official way of making it.
Ratafia can be consumed as an aperitivo or a digestive. It’s sweet, with a slight wooden touch and has a beautiful brown colour. The ladies particularly enjoy it, especially with a scoop of ice-cream! It’s very common to drink it in summer, during a nice lunch with friends! To get the best out of the experience, make sure you drink it chilled. It’s always better when it is refrigerated!
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Chocolate con churros
There are few things more comforting than a nice cup of hot chocolate. Chocolate has been a popular drink in Spain ever since Columbus brought back the good stuff from the New World, and you can get a decent cup of hot chocolate anywhere in Spain. But until you’ve had a cup of hot chocolate from Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid, you can’t really claim to have had it at all. Trust me, Chocolatería San Ginés will ruin every other hot chocolate you’ll ever have!
The hot chocolate here is thick, decadently rich, smooth and not too sweet. It hits the perfect balance between the subtle sweetness and chocolaty bitterness. The best way to enjoy this quintessential Spanish drink is to order a plate of golden fried churros for dipping into that heavenly dark chocolate.
Chocolatería San Ginés in central Madrid has been open since 1894 and have kept Madrileños and tourists alike hooked on its bitter-sweet lusciousness ever since. This Madrid institution is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They must be doing something right if people are still lining up for it after more than a hundred years.
Locals come here in the early hours of the morning after a solid night of clubbing, followed by the tourists and cacao junkies for breakfast or a pick-me-up throughout the day. Make sure to include Chocolatería San Ginés on your self-guided walking tour of Madrid and treat yourself to the best hot chocolate in Spain.
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Madroño Liquor is a drink you must try when visiting Madrid for the weekend. It is a fruity liquor made from madroño tree berries, a common tree found around Madrid and one that is shown on Madrid’s coat of arms (although poorly translated in English to the strawberry tree).
This Spanish liquor is naturally alcoholic as it starts fermenting whilst on the bush, it’s a common joke that teenagers try and eat the berries to get tipsy! Locals tend to drink it as an aperitif to get your appetite going. The liquor is smooth, fruity and gives a warm sensation when drank neat. It is often served in a small chocolate and waffle cup (pictured) that you can eat after you have drunk the liquor. The best place in Madrid to try this liquor for just €2 is called El Madroño, minutes away from Plaza Major in the city centre.
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Spain without having red wine? That is basically impossible. And that’s why we started drinking regional wine whenever we went to Spain. In other words, we adopted our wine-drinking behaviour to the region we were visiting. One of our favourites during this little expedition was Rioja. Rioja itself is a wine region in Spain (Denominación de Origen Calificada) and located in the autonomous regions of La Rioja, Basque Country and Navarre. We mostly drank Rioja while being on a road trip along the Atlantic Coast of France all the way down South to Spain. When we ended up in the Spanish city St. Sebastian we couldn’t stop drinking Rioja as it was the perfect math to tapas and stormy weather which is so typical for the Atlantic region. Rioja is a rather heavy red wine but really is perfect to strong cheese and greasy sliced meat on white bread – trust us, it’s magic.
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There’s a drink that you’ll see everywhere in Valencia, but which I’d never tried before I went to this part of Spain, and that’s horchata. In Valencia, horchata is made from the milky juice of tiger nuts. Otherwise known as chufa, tiger nuts are neither related to tigers nor are they nuts – in fact, they’re the tubers of a type of grass that grows exceptionally well in the Valencia region. The tiger nuts are soaked in water before being blended and mixed with sugar to create a refreshing drink that tastes a little like soy or almond milk but much sweeter.
You can buy cooling glasses of horchata all over Valencia, from traditional Horchaterias in the old town to pop-up stands at the City of Arts and Sciences, to elegant cafes in the smart Mercado de Colon food court. It’s a cheap and refreshing pick-me-up for any time of day. Horchata in Valencia is traditionally served with fartons – long, fat, bread-like fingers with a sugar glaze and an unfortunate name. For maximum enjoyment, dip your farton into the cool, milky horchata – delicious!
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Kalimotxo is an interesting and festive drink. It is originally from the Basque Country, hence its curious name, but it is possible to find it everywhere in Spain, especially amongst the youngest party people. The two main ingredients of this drink are red wine and coca-cola. Told like this it may sound disgusting but the truth is that the taste is really good!
Just like with the sangria, kalimotxo was born from the need of getting something drinkable from a cheap, basic wine. People started mixing lots of things with this low-quality wine until they got something that tasted good. So the secret to a good kalimotxo (or sangria), if we want to stick to the original concept, is a basic wine and in my opinion, nothing beats the carton wine for preparing a good kalimotxo! The main difference between kalimotxo and sangria is that kalimotxo kills neurons really fast. It is like a front, brutal brain attack so after a night of party and kalimotxo expect the worst hangover of your life.
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Sangría with Cava
While you’ve probably had sangria during your lifetime and you may have heard of cava, a sparkling wine from Catalonia, Spain, it is also a must-have drink when you’re in the area. Cava has a Denominación de Origen (DO) status in Spain and has been traditionally made in the Penedès area of Catalonia.
Cava sangria is typically made from a white or rose coloured wine with white grape juice and oranges. It pairs particularly well with lighter foods, such as chicken, fish, or other types of seafood.
Non-alcoholic sangria doesn’t sound too Spanish, does it? However, this non alcoholic Spanish drink has become popular amongst people with alcohol intolerance and visitors to Spain. It’s a great opportunity to get a taste of sangria sans the alcohol. It is usually made with grape juice and orange juice, it is a deliciously sweet and refreshing fruity drink.
Spend a few days in Barcelona and you can easily find cava sangria and non-alcoholic sangria at Cachitos.
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Spanish Craft beer
In a country known for wine, it’s no surprise the beer scene in Spain is dominated by mass-produced, watered-down beer. Brands like Estrella Damm, Moritz, and Cruzcampo can be enjoyed throughout Spain for as little as €1.25 ($1USD). These beers are the perfect solution to beat the heat on a hot summer day. For craft beer connoisseurs who want more from their beer, Spanish beers haven’t always answered the call. Thankfully, in the past ten years, there has been a renaissance in craft beer brewing around Spain. Known locally as cervesa artesana, craft beer is gaining in popularity. Visitors to Spain can now enjoy high-quality IPAs, stouts, and saison style beer.
It’s now possible to find quality Spanish craft beer in Barcelona and Madrid as well as in smaller cities. The region of Catalonia in northeastern Spain, known for its innovative culinary offerings, is leading the Spanish craft beer movement. With over 100 registered craft beer brewers, Catalan brewers are developing beers to pair with the local cuisine. One brewer, in particular, has even developed a pilsner beer infused with plankton, to pair with seafood dishes. Unlike the mass-produced beers, craft beers in Spain are “expensive”. An average bottle of craft beer in Spain will cost around €4.
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Ribera del Duero wine
If you are visiting Spain, drinking red wine is a no-brainer. But did you know, there are 69 recognized wine regions all around the country? Each one produces unique flavours depending on the terrain and climate. One of my favourite wine regions for red is the Ribera del Duero. The region itself is located in the northern plateau in the autonomous community of Castille de Leon and is known for its flat but rocky landscape and dramatic climate.
The grapes grown in the region are predominantly Tempranillo (or known locally as Tinto Fino) and the wines tend to be heavier and more textured than wines from surrounding regions. Although a wine from Ribera del Duero is known to be aged in oak barrels, the dark fruit flavours seem to overpower that “oak-y” flavour. They are often complex, fruit-forward and robust. When compared to the famous Rioja region, Ribera wines tend to more full-bodied, higher in alcohol content, and have a riper fruit flavour.
The beauty of this large, well-known region is you can find these wines all around Spain and likely in your speciality wine retailers at home. The region produces wine at all different price points from a few Euros for a bottle (when in Spain) to hundreds a bottle. The wine is super approachable and fun to try, I highly recommend giving it a go on your next visit to Spain!
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Rias Baixas Albariño wine
If you are a white wine lover, there is no better region in Spain to visit than Rias Baixas in Galicia region in Northern Spain. Rias Baixas (which translates to ‘lower Rias’ in Galician) is recognized as being the best place to grow Albariño in Spain, and the region is world-renowned for its excellent wines. The star of the show though (and the grape that makes up 90% of wine production in Rias Baixas) is Albariño.
If you visit Albariño vineyards in Rias Baixas, you will find vines that are, uniquely, trained high (above head height!) and anchored by granite posts. This style of trellising creates a type of canopy that facilitates better airflow, prevents mildew, and helps to ensure more even ripening. It is seen often in coastal vineyard regions, because of the extra moisture in the air. Albariño is a grape that produces medium-bodied white wines that have a lush, round, mouthfeel while at the same time exuding freshness and crispness.
Generally served young (within a year of harvesting and bottling) and un-oaked (though a handful of wineries do use oak barrels for special wines), Albariño marries perfectly with the fresh mussels, pulpo (grilled octopus), clams, and other fresh fish and seafood that make up a large part of the Galician diet.
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