You’ll be very happy to know that during my rather long hiatus, I have been conducting some very serious research on the alcoholic capabilities of Barcelona. It’s taken quite a bit of work on my behalf, but now I am happy to share all my results so you do not need to learn by my mistakes, but instead can profit from my successes. Here’s my drinking guide to barcelona, including a bar-crawl map.
Much to the disappointment of discerning Spanish slurpers, Sangria is Spain’s most famous drink. There are a multitude of Spanish tipples that more rightfully deserve this moniker – Priorat, Sherry, Cava, Albarino, Rioja. But Sangria holds its title purely because it is a party in a glass. Or at least if you have a glass, you’re likely in a party. You see, it’s cheap, easy to make, easier to throw back, and therefore has the ability to get a lot of people very drunk in very little time at minimum cost.
It’s an historic drink – stemming from a time when water was something for washing horses in, and generally fairly unhygienic to imbibe. A time when all wine was sweetened, spiced and diluted with fruit juice so everyone and anyone could drink it at any time, including children who had outgrown milk.
Now it is a totem that travellers wear at every table, a sign that they really don’t know what the locals do, that they have no palate and that they are happy to drink watered cheap wine at prices especially reserved for tourists. Knowing all of this, however will not be enough to refrain from trying it at least once during your Barcelona jaunt. It will come unbidden, a pot thrown on the table with each set menu. It will be looking at you all pretty and rustic, softened with spices and sugar, chilled and gulpable. You’ll accidentally pour some in your glass, and then you’ll look down at it a few minutes later to find it empty. And a few minutes after that, the jug will be empty too. You might find you just have to order another.
So, if you don’t want to look like a complete tourist, go to all lengths not to order Sangria. But, if you are walking around with sensible sandles, have a DSLR around your neck, have to get your euros out of your thief-resistant money belt, and keep asking every restaurant if they serve churros, then you might as well give up the game anyway.
Txakoli (pronounced “chakolee” and also called txakilina) is a Basque wine, and a style that retired into obscurity until a DOC in 1989 and a resurgence in popularity at tapas bars. It’s a great wine for the summer in Barcelona, with lean citrus flavours to compliment all the sweet seafood and smokey salty jamon or manzanilla olives, and some zest and froth to slice away the fat of all the food you eat. It’s supremely quaffable, spritzig and light, and also great with a couple of ice cubes or a slosh of soda.
You’ll find Txakoli in most places, but particularly in small bars with pintxos (Basque tapas), where you are presented with plates of various delicacies impaled on toothpicks. Your bill is arranged according to your empties much as with a sushi-train restaurant. Only here, your empties are the tiny wooden spears, which you are by-and-large trusted not to pocket to lower your bill.
- Restaurant Txakolin and Sagardi in La Ribera
- Irati Taverna nearby in Barri Gotic
- Tatika Berri and
- Maitea Txakoli in L’Eixample
This is Spain’s answer to Champagne, and can be found in every single bar and restaurant in varying degrees of quality. It can range from barely fizzy, pale brown oxidized sour apple juice, through to light and lean floral fizz similar to a decent mid-priced Prosecco, all the way up to a bready, complex dry fizz that might just compare to a very good Australian/US sparkling or basic level vintage Champagne. It’s a good measure of a restaurant – if the house Cava is good, then it’s quite likely the food and the rest of the wine list will follow suit.
Cava is drunk at any time of the day, even at breakfast, but is most widely enjoyed as a sundowner. It’s a sparkling wine that can come from several areas of Spain, but most commonly comes from around the Barcelona area, and so you’ll find plenty of examples. Grape varieties can be traditional Champagne grapes like Chardonnay, but will often be the local Macabeo (Viura), Xarel.lo or Parellada. Don’t worry if you have no idea what these are or what they taste like – Cava is nearly always a dry fizz with neutral flavours, and it’s usually so cheap that if you don’t like the taste of it, you can just throw it in the jug of sangria the tourist next to you is consuming, and order a different one. Look out for labels like Naveran Dama, Raventós i Blanc L’Hereu, Anna de Cordonieu and Gramona.
- Can Paixano in Barcelonetta
- El Rincon del Cava in Poble Sec
- El Xampanyet in the Gothic area on the edge of el Born
- Cavamar on the beach is also a restaurant, but food and service up and down – best just for a drink
Local Red Wine
For those coming from the New World of wine production (like me), stepping into a European region and trying to bluster your way around a wine list is a struggle until you know at least few regional names. It’s not really that confusing – you just have to remember that the regions of Europe can as quickly identify the style of wine much as a grape variety can, and as we learn to replace our request of “voluptuous dry whites” with White Burgundy and “spicy full bodied reds” with Chianti, we can also learn to replace deep and intense fruity reds (like Barossa Shiraz) with Priorat. It’s usually Grenache and Carignan, but there are some examples that include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Priorat is not Shiraz, but it’s about as close to it as you can get in the country, and the region is close enough to Barcelona city to ensure there’s a good saturation of brands. It’s nearly always densely purple, spicy and ripe. At it’s best it can have a mouthfilling, syrupy texture, soft but firm tannins, and length that can outlast a mouthful of Manchego. The wines are a little more modern and cleaner than some of the rustic Rioja reds at the same price, and from my experience, you’re less likely to get wine of substandard quality. In fact, it’s the only Spanish region apart from Rioja to hold a DOCa classification – a tiny guarantee of better quality. I’d like to give them a DOCa+. Look for Mas La Mola, Mas Alta, Parmi, Ferrer Bobet, Alvaro Palacios.
If you can’t find Priorat, you’ll probably be served a Penedes red – sometimes good, but usually a little insipid if a house pour. Instead ask for a Navarra wine – usually a bit rough, but full of flavour and well priced, or if that fails, Rioja (pronounced Ree-yo-ha with a short “o”) – Crianza for cheap and fruity, Reserva for something with a little more guts.
- La Vinya del Senyor in el Born
- Cellar di Ribera in el Born
- La Llavor dels Origens also in el Born
- Clos Montblanc in l’Eixample
In the rest of the world, vermouth is the stuff that you rinse your martini glass out with before you tip in some icy cold Tanqueray and a couple of green olives. For some, it’s the sweet red stuff that you can add to a Manhattan if you want to look all cool and Gatsbyesque, or if you are 90 years old and only drink at christenings and wakes.
In Barcelona, however, it is what you drink just before the sun hits its zenith. It’s a drink for bakers, railway workers, night shifters and other creatures of the dawn who need a drink before lunch, but don’t want to look like a total soak. It also makes a damn fine hair-o-the-dog.
Vermouth (or vermut) in Barcelona is usually red, sweet, and infused with herbs and spices, but you will find white versions, also slightly sweet and herby. It’s stronger than wine, but you take it cold and short, and throw it back with a couple of lean appetisers like anchovies and tart olives. For more information, check out this fab post on Culinary Backstreets.
- Cala del Vermut in Barri Gotic
- I’d add the gorgeous and perfectly named Bar del Born in el born.
- or if you understand Spanish, look for more listings here.
Like most of Western Europe, the Spaniards take pride in their coffee, and don’t like it being messed with. Coffee is always espresso, never percolator, and so those who like an American coffee might be better off switching to Coke (“Coca” in Barcelona). White Coffee and black coffee are two completely different drinks, and asking for a cappuccino after lunch is like asking for a bowl of cereal as an entrée at dinner – it’s just not done. Café con leche is for breakfast – you can sweeten it, dip your rock-hard bread in it, even dandle a churro if you will. It’s pre-lunch soup, and like Cinderella, has it’s pumpkin-moment after 12. From that moment on, it’s always, always espresso. From this time on, coffee becomes a digestive, taken after meals, and any cup with more than one sugar is for babies. If you don’t like black coffee, drink tea. No recommendations – Coffee is pretty good everywhere in Barcelona.
Barcelona is a large, modern city, and so really, you can order whatever you want to drink. In summer, it’s also all about Gin and tonic (this becomes one word – Gintoneek), and beer. Spirits and mixers arrive in fishbowl glasses with enough strength to kill a large family of guppies. There’s plenty of locally brewed beers, and Estrella is the one you’ll see everywhere. Also look out for some smaller brands like Moritz and Almogàver. If you just want a cleanser and some great tapas to go with, give one of the following a try.
- Elisabets just off Las Ramblas
- Cerveseria Catalan in Balmes near the Gaudi Casa Batlló
- Quimet I quimet is the one recommended by one of my favourite travel bloggers (and everyone else), Jenny at A taste of travel
So that should be enough to keep you out of trouble. Or in it….
PS – the worst hangovers come from a combination of Sangria, Priorat and Cava – I can say this from a depth of experience.