Deberes de español Generalisations about beer culture

¿Cómo se pide una cerveza?

This post was written in response to a “meme” passed to us from CAAC, and begun on Culturilla Cervecera, on how to ask for a beer in your home city. This is a useful topic, as in Spain every part of the country has a different word to describe different measures, as you can see from following the links. There’s even a link here to a Portuguese version if you’re planning a holiday there…

If you’d like to chip in with how to order a beer in your respective country, then do feel free. I remember getting totally lost when an Australian tried to explain about “schooners” and “middies”.

En Londres, como en todas partes del RU, se pide “a pint” [paynt] o “a half” [harf] de cerveza que quieres p.e. “a pint of Pride, please”. Se puede usar nombres genéricos como “bitter” o “lager” si hay sólo una opción.

Si quieres beber de una botella, sólo necesitas decir el nombre (p.e. “A Duvel, please”). No tenemos nombres distintos para tamaños distintos. A veces se oye la expresión “nip bottle” para una botella pequeñita, pero nunca la he oido en un pub.

NB: Una pinta británica es 568ml, y una media es exactamente eso – pero una pinta americana es 473ml. En teoria, se puede comprar un tercio de pinta, pero nunca he visto estos vasos en un pub, sólo en beer-festivals.

Otras cosas muy importantes:

  • Normalmente no hay camereros en pubs británicos o irlandeses. Se pide la cerveza de (a? en?) la barra, y se paga imediatamente.
  • Se compra cerveza “in rounds” – se turna para comprar cervezas para sus compañeros. “it’s my round” = “me toca a mi”
  • Normalmente no damos propinas a los barmanes. Si quieres darle una propina a alguien en un pub, dile “and one for yourself” (“y uno para usted”) después de pedir tus bebidas. El barman añadirá el precio de una pequeña bebida a las que has pedido. Pero eso es muy inusual – yo he dado una propina en un pub inglés sólo una vez en mi vida.
  • No se olvides “please” y “thanks” – yo sé que los españoles ríen de nosotros ingleses en España porque decimos “gracias” todo el tiempo pero en Inglaterra no es posible sobreusar estas palabras.
  • Si quieres probar cerveza tradicional, busca la descripción “cask conditioned” o “real ale”.



Subtle = bland?

What’s the difference between a beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland?

There are quite a few terms used in beer writing which are imprecise.

The one that I agonise over most is “subtle”. There are some beers which, to me, have little or no flavour — certainly not a flavour worth trumpeting. They’re bland.

And yet I read articles by well-known beer writers waxing poetical about the subtle brilliance of the very same brews. Sometimes, the fine flavours are apparently so subtle that they only emerge when accompanied by, say, a particular type of bread, or at a certain temperature.

So, I think Commercial Lager X is bland; Big Shot Beer Writer thinks it “beguiles with a clean, malty palate, and a subtle hint of spicy hop in the aftertaste”. Huh?

Is my palate at fault? Perhaps. You might recall that it took a concentrated effort for us to discern what was, to us, a subtle distinction between Koelsch and bog standard lager.

Another possibility — could it be that these writers feel obliged to be nice about certain beers for political/commercial reasons? Possibly.

Most often, though, it’s probably just that most of us know when we like or dislike a particular beer and set about using words to justify our judgement.

So, what’s the difference between a beer with low-carbonation, and a beer that’s flat? A beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland? Or one with “crisp hop bitterness” and one that “is dry and astringent”?

Maybe nothing except that the critic likes the first beer, but doesn’t like the second.


Light Lithuanian Lagers – face-off round 1

We’ve enjoyed Svyturys a lot in the past, and were wondering whether any of the other Lithuanian lagers that are often available in London cornershops would prove equally enjoyable.

utenos.jpgSo we popped into our local store and picked up some Kalnapilis (Original) and some Utenos. These were both ostensibly “Muenchner Hell” types, i.e. light lagers. (NB – both these breweries do pilsners and, more interestingly, baltic porters, but these are less readily available. Will do a taste test one day).

Kalnapilis had the prouder boasts (“finest Saaz hops”) etc but it was Utenos that won the day – quite a hoppy taste for a light lager, and very smooth and easy to drink. The Kalnapilis, if it tasted of anything at all, was rather sweet.

The websites for these beers do not fill the real ale / craft beer lover with joy – both are proudly boasting their “Ice” brand – boasting an even milder version of their current products. And I’m sorry, but counting the tinned version of your brew as a different product from the bottle (when both are pasteurised) just doesn’t convince…

Next round – Svyturys v Utenos… then we can move away from light lagers and tackle the heavy stuff.


P.S. the Lithuanian word for beer is “alus”. Presumably some sign of the old Indo-European roots of our word “ale”?


How to order a beer in Spain

Bailey and I said we’d try to keep this blog positive, so I’m not going to start with a rant about the poor quality of Spanish lager. Tempted as I am.

Instead, some cultural notes on ordering beer. “Dos cervezas, por favor” will work, but you won’t sound like a native.

Firstly, the Spanish rarely say “por favor”. They’re not being rude, we’re just overly polite.

Secondly, as in England, you don’t order “a beer”; instead you specify the measure, or rather, the type of glass.

To confuse things further, there’s no such thing as a standard measure, and the various glasses have different names, depending on what part of the country you’re in. In Andalucia, the following generally works;

  • Una caña – (CAnya)– a measure of around 200 / 250 ml, can be smaller;
  • Un tubo – (Too-bo)– a tall glass, usually holds around 330ml;
  • Una jarra – (HArra – the “j” sounds like “ch” in “loch”, and you should roll the “r”s) – if they have them, this will usually be a pint measure, sometimes in a dimpled mug.

Dos canas
Dos cañas

There is no shame in ordering a caña, even if you’re a bloke.

Also to note – bottled beer is more expensive than stuff from the tap (de grifo), and it’s more expensive to drink outside on the terrace than inside. Sitting at the bar itself can be even cheaper.