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How come beer is served in big pint or half pint glasses north of the Pyrenees and here in Spain we pull it in little glasses called cañas? Germans and Englishmen, most Europeans in general, are usually shocked the first time they see the minimalistic size of the glasses here; and then they usually ask for the biggest glass in the bar, and that is their mistake. They have forgotten the first rule when traveling and that is: “wherever you go, do what you see.” It is not that we drink less beer –although it could very well be– it is simply that we drink it in smaller glasses.

The explanation is quite simple, easy to understand. Down in the South it is hotter than most parts of Europe, if we did drink beer in heavy big pints we would end up with warm beverages in less than half an hour –whenever that happens we call that pipí, that is we are drinking pee–. Low temperatures don’t last during summer as the outside temperatures usually surpass the 35º. So the trick to drink a whole pint of beer cold till the last drop is drinking three cañas one after the other. That’s the secret.

Caña, corto (short one), quinto (fifth), zurito, doble (double)...

There are a hundred different names for our popular caña. Depending on where in Spain you are that small glass of beer has different alias. I suggest that, once you are in a given bar, you take a moment to observe and listen what the regular customers order. In Southern Spain there is no doubt about it: caña; anything else is considered a barbarism, nonsense. However, you might need to ask for a zurito in Bilbao –by the way this name comes from the Córdoba bullfighter Zurito who had a bar where beer was pulled in this sort of glasses–; or a corto in Castile or Galicia. In Aragón it is called penalty. But beware!, some of these can be even smaller than the regular 22 cl. caña; some may be shorter and wider glasses also used to serve whine: chatos they are called (tumblers). What a shameful thing a chato of beer is!

So you still want bigger…

Well, now the slang gets a bit complex. A third of a liter of beer is pulled in a jarra (jar), doble (double), copa (glass), tubo (tube) or maceta (pot). Depending on where you are you must choose one or the other, although the waiter might understand you if you order a big beer. However, if you are still missing those common pints and double pints of your homeland then you may have to bulk the vocabulary to get the sought-after liter drink. Tanque (tank), Mini or Cachi/Katxi. This last one is very popular in verbenas and it comes in plastic glasses: a shameful crime. I insist on the caña as the best way to enjoy a beer during summer, the caña or cañita, very cold, one after the other up until you fill the belly. Always draft beer as the technique to pull it makes for the quality of the caña.

And some other day we shall talk about beer in bottles: quintos (fifths), botellines (little bottles), tercios (thirds), litronas (liters)… that come with a particular vocabulary too.

Last but not least, beer is not served but pulled or poured: pull me a couple of cañas, pour me a couple of cañas.

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