The beer here isn’t cheap. Most places you go to, they only have that continental lager, the sort of stuff that, if you’re an ale snob like me, you’d turn your nose up at anywhere in England. Thing is, it works here. It’s so warm so much of the time that your classic nearly warm pint of Scruttock’s Old Dirigible, with the twigs and the bits of beak still in it, wouldn’t be all that refreshing. A glass of Estrella, though, chilled near to freezing, is about the most perfect alcoholic beverage in this climate.
And it is always, always, Estrella. Brewed right here in Barcelona, the bloody stuff is like a staple nutrient to the locals. As lagers go, it’s not at all bad; just over 5% volume, nicely chilled, it’s great. Even when it’s warmed up a bit, it’s still, well, palatable. And if you go into any bar, and just casually order “una cervesa, por favour”, you can be pretty sure it’s Estrella you’re going to get. I always try and get it on tap, though – like I say, it ain’t cheap, and there’s a psychological block when you’re presented with a glass and a bottle you know you could have bought for a quarter of the price down the local supermercat.
Which, these days, is mostly what I do. Well, for one thing, I can’t afford to pay more than 4 euros a pint every time I fancy a bevvy. And for another, while it may be pricey in bars, it’s bloody dirt cheap in supermarket fridges. 60 cents is the cheapest I’ve found, in a little hole in the wall in Gracia; though the price often depends on the mood of the surly fucker behind the till (customer service is not a high priority in Catalonia). Never more than 85 cents so far…
It is, in fact, actually cheaper than non-alcoholic drinks. Coca Cola – usually more than a euro. Estrella – usually less. Which probably explains why you always see the locals wandering the streets with one of the distinctive metallic red cans in hand, ready for a crafty swig. It’s technically illegal to drink on the street; when I first came here, if I had a can in hand and I saw a copper, I’d nonchalantly turn in a direction so he couldn’t see the can and walk briskly but unhurriedly away. Now though, after five months, I know the police don’t really care about it. They’ve got better things to do, like harassing the dodgy Moroccan mojito sellers on the beach for no particular reason.
You can also rely on guys like that for a can when the bars are closed. They roam the streets at night, six packs in hand, ready to sell you one for however much they can get away with (tip – never agree to pay more than one euro). It is actually handy if you want one more on the stagger back to your gaff after the night’s wound to a boozy close. They pay 60 cents per can, you pay one euro – it’s still cheaper than you’d get in any bar. Everybody wins.
Because, after 11pm, the supermarkets may be open but they’re not allowed to sell you beer. Some of them take this more seriously than others; there’s plenty where, with a wink and a nod, they’ll sell you beer after hours providing you conceal it in a jacket pocket. But when all’s said and done, the chancers hanging around junctions with the six packs are more reliable.
They’re also handy if you’re relaxing somewhere like a beach, and you can’t be arsed to give up your hard won spot to go to the supermarket for fresh supplies. You might not get Estrella here though; keen to up their profit margins, these guys tend to buy as cheap as they can, and the chances are you’ll get an enticing brew misleadingly named “Top Beer”. Still, on a scorching Barcelona beach, all you’re likely to care about is whether its’s cold. Just make sure to haggle when they try to sell it to you for more than 2 euros. That means they think you’re an idiot tourist with more money than sense.
It’s not all Estrella either. There’s another local brew which is far superior, the oddly Germanically named Moritz. Trouble is, it’s a bit more expensive (this is relative, we’re talking 90 cents as opposed to 65), and it’s harder to find. Still, if you can spare the extra few pennies a can, and the supermarket has it in stock, go with Moritz. Three days a week, I teach a business class near Arc de Triomf, and afterwards I relax in the park with a beer and read comics. I know every supermarket that stocks Moritz in the area…
Sure, there’s nicer beer if you want it. Down plenty of streets are the ‘craft ale’ bars, which sell interesting brews from all over the world. There’s some damn good IPAs; Damm, the brewers of Estrella, make a gorgeous one called Complott, which is terrific chilled to the bone on a hot day outside Bar Nostalgic near me. The lovely Max runs a charmingly eccentric little bar called Imprfcto on Avinguda Paral-lel, which stocks a variety of tasty tipples from his native Belgium.
But if that’s the route you want to go, be prepared to take out a mortgage. The cheapest of those, Complott, will cost you 6 euros a pint. Most of the beers at Imprfcto come in smaller measures (Belgian beer being wicked strong), but you’ll still pay over 4 euros for 330ml. And if you go into a craft ale bar, better have a hefty bank balance – the cheapest beer will probably cost you at least 8 euros. Before I knew any better, I even paid 11 for one of them.
So, Estrella it usually is. Between 2 and 3 euros a 330ml serving at most bars, or the even more tempting 65 cents a can if you don’t mind drinking it walking down the street. My backpack usually has one or two cans in it for emergencies; I learned this from Tom, who also usually has some fruit and a baguette in there…