In a country better known for its wine, and where many visitors arrive looking to join the locals in a glass of sangria (and for the moment, at least, I’m going to leave aside all the misconceptions involved in that one), the importance of beer may come as a surprise. I mean, it’s just beer, right? Well, half right. Beer is a popular drink, but its place in daily life is a little different here. I’m not talking now about the emerging sub-culture of craft beer, although it’s taking off here in a modest way, but about the ordinary, everyday beer that’s available in every bar in Spain.
Culturally, the first thing to remember is that beer is a “soft drink” (not technically, of course, unless you go for the alcohol-free kind, which is widely available). From at least May to October, Seville is Hot (with a capital H from June to September), and imbibing large quantities of fluids is essential to staying hydrated, particularly if you’re doing a lot of walking (which as a visitor you probably are). And now that beer has been scientifically proven to be better for staying hydrated than those overpriced “sports” drinks you’ve no reason to avoid it. Unless you’re driving or operating heavy machinery (which as a visitor you probably aren’t).
Practically, the first thing to remember is that beer must be drunk Cold (yes, with a capital C). The first reason is obvious. The second is that Spanish beers are Pilsner style beers, and are not particularly nice once they warm up. And when it’s 40ºC that happens pretty quickly, which brings us neatly to the second thing to remember. Beer is drunk in a small glass, known as a caña. If necessary have two, but never a large one. In the best establishments the glasses are kept in the fridge.
Finally, timing. The best time for a cold beer is at the end of a morning’s sightseeing or exploring (or for locals like me after your morning errands), but before settling down to lunch. And before the bars start filling up. There’s a lot to be said for the buzz and vibe of a really busy bar, but beer o’clock is for relaxing, and any time from 12 o’clock through to about 2 is fine. And as the adverts say – please consume responsibly.
Note: Not everyone likes beer. A tinto de verano (red wine with lemonade and ice) is an acceptable alternative, and can also be taken with lunch, when beer is not generally to be recommended. For the more adventurous a pre-lunch vermouth is also in vogue. Cheers!