Ordering a beer in Spain can sometimes be a little more confusing for foreigners than it is in their own countries. In fact, there are so many different words used when asking for a beer across the regions of Spain that we’re only going to deal with Catalunya in this article.
We’re going to assume that you all know the Spanish word for beer is “cerveza”, right? In Catalan it’s almost the very same: cervesa. For the purposes of clarity, we’re going to show the Catalan words first in both bold and italics, followed by the Castellano equivalent (only in italics).
Una cervesa, si us plau
If you walk into a bar in Catalunya and simply ask for “una cervesa, si us plau” (una cerveza, por favor), “a beer, please”, you may be asked if you want a canya (caña) or ampolla (botella), but more than likely than not you’ll just be given a canya – “by default”, as one of our local bartenders put it. This is the most commonly served beer and is usually a 250ml glass of draft lager and typically costs €2 to €2.50, although this can vary according to the bar, its location, and the beer itself. In some bars you find find canyas for as little as €1.50 whereas elsewhere, like maybe in a xiringuito, you could pay up to €3.50. Sometimes the glass will only contain 200ml – and in other parts of Spain that’d be the norm – but it’s still a canya! Confused yet?
As you’ll see as you read further, there are lots of different ways to order beer here, but if you only remember one, remember the “canya” as that’ll get you by just about everywhere, even if the measure isn’t always quite the same. Saying “Ir de cañas” anywhere in Spain is the equivalent of “going for a pint” even if you mightn’t actually be drinking pints – or even beer! It’s the same with “going for cañas”!.
As most bars typically only sell lager-style beer and, more likely than not, have only one beer tap, it is common here for customers to simply ask for a canya without really caring which brand of lager beer it happens to be. If you see that there are a few taps then you’ll need to say “una canya de Heineken”, for example, if that’s the beer you want. If there are, say, just a couple of taps and you don’t specify then you’ll be given the most commonly sold, which is usually Estrella Damm here in Catalunya.
In 2013 Damm relaunched the Turia brand – originally from Valencia but purchased by Damm and now brewed by Estrella Levante in Murcia, also now owned by Damm – and so it is becoming more and more common to see a Turia tap alongside an Estrella Damm one. Turia is a cervesa torrada (cerveza tostada), that is, “toasted” to a slightly darker colour and would come under the märzen category of beers. The point we’re making is that, slowly but surely, styles of beer other than lager are becoming more widely available in Catalan and Spanish bars, but if you just ask for “una canya” then you’ll still probably be sold a draft Estrella Damm with no more questions asked. If that’s all you’re after then go ahead and ask for una canya, but it’s not a bad idea to have a look first and see what’s available.
Occasionally you may hear someone asking for “un zurito” which is a very small draft beer – basically half a canya. The reason it’s not all that commonly heard is because the term is mostly only used in Euskadi (the Basque Country), but with pintxo bars becoming more popular in Catalunya some of the vocabulary has come with them. In cities like Donostia the culture of pintxos is to pop into numerous bars having one pintxo with a zurito in each place before moving on to the next one. Many foreigners may still wonder what the point is in such a small beer – but hey, that’s culture! Someone ordering an extra small beer in Catalunya is more likely to ask for una canya petita (una caña pequeña) but, as we mentioned earlier, canyas are not always the same size in every bar anyway. Some bars will have two sizes of canya glasses and to differentiate may serve the smaller ones as canyas and the larger 33oml ones as copas – more about copas in a minute.
I want a pint!
If you’ve no interest in zuritos or canyas petitas and want to get right down to business, then ask for a gerra (jarra). This is basically a 500ml glass of draft beer, but don’t be surprised if it’s not available as not every bar will have the larger glasses. And, as with canyas, gerra glasses are not necessarily all the same size, ranging from 400ml up to 568ml (a pint). The reason many bars don’t even stock the larger glasses is that very few locals ever ask for them, mainly due to the warmer climate here. Warm lager is not very appealing and given that lager was all that was on offer until recent times smaller was better, especially in hot weather – hence canyas! If you forget the word gerra but want a large draft beer you can try asking for a “pinta” instead. In Catalan the word “pinta” comes from “pint” in English, obviously enough you would think, but it is relatively new to the language and outside the context of a bar and beer, “pinta” has other meanings. In Castellano a “pint” is more commonly a medio litro, for example, but worry, almost every bartender will understand that you want a large beer.
Not everyone quite gets it though! On multiple occasions we have heard customers in Irish bars trying to order “una canya de pinta” when what they actually wanted was “a half pint of stout”, the black beer. They had confused “pinta” as meaning the stout itself rather than the volume of beer – which was fair enough as the idea of both pints and stout were entirely new to them. At least they were willing to try something different!
So, we hope that clears things up somewhat (and hasn’t just further confused the issue!) Basically, if you are ordering a specific draft beer, order it by size and name – una gerra/pinta de Heineken, for example. If you just ask for “una Estrella” it’ll usually be assumed you want a bottle of the stuff, even if they have Estrella on draft as well.
One type of beer that’s becoming gradually more and more popular here is I.P.A. (India Pale Ale). You’ll find it in quite a few bars now, usually in bottles. If you’d like one of these then ask for an “ee-pah”.
When it comes to bottles the most typical size is 330ml and those are known here as medianas. Just like when you order a canya, if you simply say “una mediana” you’ll probably be given a bottle of Estrella, or whatever their main beer is. You may occasionally hear a customer asking for “un tercio” which is the very same thing but probably an indication that they come from another part of Spain outside Catalunya. (To be fair, “un tercio” means “a third” and could be argued to be a more logical name for a beer bottle containing a third of a litre!) Some bars will also sell very small bottles of beer containing only 200ml, and in Catalunya these are – very logically – called un quinto, “a fifth”.
One more thing.. If you order a bottle of beer you’ll usually be asked if “vols una copa” (quieres una copa), “would you like a glass”? The word “copa” in both Catalan and Castellano refers to a rounded glass with a stem, such as a wine glass or the typical beer glasses you see here. Although it sounds like it, it doesn’t mean “cup” – that would be una tassa (una taza). A normal glass without the stem is un got (un vaso), such as a glass for water.
Non-alcoholic beer is almost never available on tap but rather in bottles or sometimes cans. When the locals want one of these they usually say “una cervesa zero zero” (0.0%) or una “una cervesa sense alcohol” (una cerveza sin alcohol). Sometimes people will drop the “alcohol” and just ask for “una cerveza sin”.
Una clara = shandy (kind of)
Another beery drink popular with Catalans is la clara, a half-and-half mix of lager beer and fizzy lemonade. So, basically it’s a version of a shandy, but while in many other countries a “white lemonade” such as 7Up or Sprite is used to dilute the beer, in Catalunya “lemon-ade” really means lemon-flavoured! If you want white lemonade in your beer you need to specify, and you may or may not get lucky. In other parts of Spain they are more likely to use a gaseosa – a slightly sweetened fizzy water – but we’re not even going to get into that here. As we said at the start, there are so many ways to order your beer throughout Spain that you could write a small book on the subject.
It should all be easier
So, there you have it, that should pretty much cover you in Catalunya at least! If you find it all needlessly complicated, don’t worry, so do the Spanish when they travel to other parts of their own country. There are numerous online articles in Castellano explaining to the Spanish themselves in their own language how to order elsewhere in Spain, it’s that messy! The good thing is that nowadays there are more and more bars with a variety of beers and the staff in those places know to check with customers what exactly they want since the whole “new” and exciting world of beers other than lager is still new to so many of them.
By the way, there are also a number of ways to say “cheers” around Spain. These are some of them. We’ll let you look up which ones are from where: