Let’s be honest, beer is life. Us brits love a pint or five, and if you come to Spain, like every other European country, they love it too. However, to the common eye, a bar in England compared to Spain, the first question often springs to mind in a Spanish bar; Why is there only one beer on tap?! I must admit, I was totally perplexed by that too. In England it’s customary to order the size and brand, whereas in Spain, the brand 9/10 times is not necessary.
What you get is de la casa, and that’s the brand you may had seen outside the front door before you walked in. The only cases I know where they ask you what brand or type you want, is if you’re in an English-speaking bar, or a bar which sells lots of craft beer. Even bars that say cervecería on the outside, will probably give you the standard one. But not to worry, if you don’t like the particular brand they have on tap, they will provide other brands in bottles or cans. You just have to ask, and even then, it’s likely they only have one brand but with variants, like stout, amber, IPA and so on. Seriously, there’re more than 10 types of San Miguel on offer here.
The regional touch about beer, is that a typical bar will serve the locally made brew, and the change when you cross each border is notable. Not many places will be divided, and it looks like Amstel and Heineken are the only foreign beers that have any popularity here. Guess the Spaniards like a bit of Dutch courage. Like England, the standard beer is a lager, or pilsner though you might find some variants. Supermarkets are not particularly biased, and they will sell anything from almost every region, especially Carrefour.
This is what you will find:
Estrella Galicia: Galicia
No brownie points to where this beer comes from, but this is one of the better beers of the country, and if you’re in any city of a reasonable size, you can find it. It has a full flavour, and a soft aftertaste. It is a great contender, it’s popularity in Spain is growing rapidly and you can find it in England without too much trouble.
Mahou Clasica/ 5 estrellas: Castilla y León, Castilla La Mancha, Madrid, La Rioja
A major powerhouse in Spain. When I first moved to León, this beer was everywhere, and I wasn’t complaining. There’s nothing about this beer that thrills you, it just goes well with tapas and you don’t think twice when consuming it. The 5 estrellas version is a Pilsner that is a little stronger, but again it’s pretty inoffensive. Its not easy to find in England, but not impossible.
El Águila: Madrid
This beer has a lot of history, but disappeared for years before being relaunched in 2019. Its popularity in bars has started to grow, and it’s very refreshing. I’ll be unhappy to see this one disappear again.
San Miguel: Asturias, Cantabria, País Vasco, Madrid, Parts of Catalonia, Baleares
Now here is a beer that has a very different taste in my opinion when you drink it here in Spain compared to England. Here, it tastes so much better than in England! I don’t know what they do to it, but there you have it. This might originally be from the Philippines, but it was created by Spaniards there, and was brought back to where it belongs. They have a brewery in Lleida, which is one of it’s patron saints and is hugely popular in that part of Catalonia. You will find it in every city in the country without fail.
Turia: Comunidad Valenciana
Named after the river that flows through Valencia, Turia has a distinct taste, and is in my opinion, my favourite beer that’s widely available. It’s a little darker, but not as strong as other beers of that nature. It’s pretty easy to find in the region, but outside this place, it’s a little harder. But I have seen a fair few bars in Catalonia that sell it. This may be the least known beer on this list based on my discussion about it with friends.
Ambar and Aragon go together like Valencia and Paella. Its amazing how the transformation is when you cross it’s borders. The colour certainly reflects the name, and has a nice smooth taste that you can drink over long periods of time. I’d go for this over a San Miguel, nine times out of ten.
Damm (Estrella): Catalonia
Damm has loads of varieties, but Estrella is the most common one, and I must admit, it has the typical lager taste. It has a little more fizz than San Miguel, but makes up for it in taste. You find this in most bars around Catalonia although in Lleida, it is a bit less common. Try the many varieties this has, I liked every single one of them.
Specifically from Malaga, this beer takes the Costa del Sol by storm. However, it tastes extremely similar to Estrella Damm. If you were to blindfold me, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Try it and see for yourself.
Keler: País Vasco, Navarre
This beer has a character to it. I first saw it in Pamplona, but it’s actually from San Sebastian. It’s striking yellow label also strikes your mouth with a strong flavour. The aftertaste is a little worse compared to other beers and at 6%, its one of the stronger beers on tap in Spain.
Cruzcampo: Andalucia, Extremadura
This is the downside to living in Andalusia. Cruzcampo is probably the worst beer in Spain in my opinion, and though I drink it, it would never be my first choice. My head partially drops when I enter a bar and see this is being served to me. It’s fairly refreshing, but the last dreg is not nice. But at the end of the day, beer is beer.
Now this is a beer that should be winning the people of Andalusia over, certainly won me over. The taste and aftertaste of this beer makes it worth coming back for again and again. This contribution from Granada goes great with a tapa or two.
I tried this beer once and I thought it was nothing special, but nothing particularly bad to write home about. Then again, I’ve only had this in a can, so I can’t say much more about it other than that the Canaries love drinking it, and you barely see it on the peninsula.
Estrella de Levante: Murcia, Castilla la Mancha, Comunidad Valenciana
I had never heard of this beer before until I visited the Alicante Province, and by the time I got to Murcia, it was everywhere. I would say it was comparable to Alhambra, but a little bit milder. There’s nothing special to it, but I wouldn’t complain about being served it at all.
Moritz is a fierce rival of Estrella Damm in the Catalan region, and the flavour is a bit more intense to start with. I found this to be a drink more linked to gastronomy rather than sinking a few in a bar, whereas Estrella was easier to do that with.
So the choice is yours, your palette might not agree with mine, but wherever you go, be prepared to be stuck with little choice other than the local favourite. At the very least, should you not like the draught option, you will have bottled or canned options. During the summer I often go for the draught option with lemon or gaseosa, as it’s more refreshing, but that’s a different experience altogether. whichever region you visit, you’re guaranteed at least one change… Salud!