No Gin and Tonics before Dinner, and Other Important Drinking Rules in Spain

Drinking Spain

Order a beer before lunch or in the afternoon.

By Kirstin Hollingsworth

“No, no, no,” my mother-in-law tutted as I tried to order a vermouth in the evening. “Eso es para antes de comer.” That’s for before lunch, silly!

How was I to know? Growing up in the UK, there were only two rules about what you could drink and when: the first being that beer was OK at lunchtime if you didn’t have a lot on in the afternoon, and the second being that pretty much anything was fine to drink after 5pm. Clearly, when it came to drinking in Spain, I had a lot to learn.

To save you my embarrassment while drinking with Spaniards, I’ve written this simple guide. Let’s start with the morning. In Spain, it’s morning until you’ve had your lunch, which might not be until 2 or even 3pm. While drinking at breakfast definitely isn’t encouraged, my father-in-law has been known to drink a glass of red wine with a steak he’s cooked himself mid-morning as a treat when he’s not working.

At the weekend or whenever you go out for lunch, it’s quite common to go to a bar first to have a drink before eating. Drinks commonly ordered can include cañas (small glasses of beer); claras (shandy); white wine, sherry, or vermouth. You may or may not have a tapa with these, depending on the occasion.

As for lunch itself, the drinks are usually red wine and/or water. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk anything else at lunch in Spain. If you’re not going back to work, you might even sneak in a chupito – a neat serving of spirits (don’t treat this like a shot – it’s for sipping, not a down-in-one). The spirit of choice will likely vary depending on where you are. My husband-to-be’s family are from Cantabria, and they drink orujo. This drink is local to Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia and comes in flavours including herbal, coffee, plain, and honey. It’s made from fermented grape skins and if you get a chance to sample it, I definitely recommend it.

Red or white wine is usually the drink of choice at dinnertime in Spain.

Red or white wine is usually the drink of choice at dinnertime in Spain.

If you’re meeting a friend in the evening before you eat, don’t make the mistake I did and order a gin tonic, because you’ll get teased. That’s for after dinner. Now’s the time for a soft drink, a coffee, or possibly a beer. Generally, the earlier in the evening it is the more likely your companions are to be ordering a tonic water, a fanta, or something else equally non-alcoholic.

Dinner? Definitely red wine. But with the exception proving the rule, I know one Spanish woman and her partner who like to drink tinto de verano or sangría with their evening meal, because it’s not as strong.

Remember: vermouth is for before lunch, and is delicious with tapas.

Remember: vermouth is for before lunch, and is delicious with tapas.

If you go out afterwards, now’s the time for cocktails, beer, spirits…but not vermouth! And a word of warning: public drunkenness is considered pretty socially unacceptable in Spain, and you risk embarrassing whoever you’re with if you down too many. My experience is that the Spanish have a generally healthy attitude towards drinking, and bars are frequently family spaces in which the generations all mingle together, catching up on news and gossip. ¡Salut!

Kirstin is slowly learning about Spain and Spanish culture following her engagement to a Spaniard. She splits her time between the UK and Spain and blogs at https://alifein2languages.wordpress.com/

4 Responses

  1. Mad Dog says:

    Vermouth is an apéritif, which means it is served before a meal to stimulate the appetite – lunch or dinner.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermouth
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ap%C3%A9ritif_and_digestif
    Chupitos of a strong liquor are a digestif and are often given to good customers after a meal as a thank you.
    Mad Dog recently posted…Oh’LolaMy Profile

  2. Ha, great article. I’ve had anis (sambuca flavoured drink) in the mornings before with my father-in-law, but that just ruins the day, and leaves you lethargic.

    I used to start drinking beers at about 6pm back when I first arrived in Seville. I’d also have a beer if I went out with my wife and her family if they went out for coffee. But I don’t anymore. I normally have a cheeky beer at lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and maybe a glass of wine, but rarely start before about 9pm these days…and normally beers and red wine, so many types over here, and so cheap!

    Interesting article!

    Barry O’Leary

  3. Thanks for featuring my piece, I’m a long-term fan of your site :)

  4. The Spain Scoop says:

    And there are different drinking rules–and drinks of choice–for different parts of Spain. Thanks for sharing.

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