Drinking in the Basque country

When walking around San Sebastian or Bilbao it is easy to be impressed at the very large number of bars that one can frequent. In the evenings most serve tapas (locally known as pintxos), and obviously one needs something to wash down these little morsels of goodness. You’ll have to be honest when paying up, as you can order drinks and eat pintxos without being charged until you have finished and have to admit to how many drinks and pintxos pieces you have consumed.

The Basque country is a big producer of cider, and this is a good drink to go for when in a bar. They’ll generally pour this from a great height into a tumbler until there is an inch or two in the bottom of the glass. The cider is generally flat, cloudy, dry and of reasonable quality. It is made in a fresh style rather than having prolonged cask ageing as lots of English ciders undergo. Unlike the scrumpy-type cloudy ciders it is not too alcoholic, so you can easily have a couple of glasses for lunch.

Gin and tonic is a popular drink, good gin is ubiquitous and cheap there. Again you’ll be presented with a pint-sized tumbler which will be filled with ice and then the gin will be poured in until you say stop. Hooray! It is then topped up with tonic water. I suggest you order Tanqueray gin for your G&Ts as this is clearly the best gin. We stopped off in a booze merchant and got some for ten Euros a bottle.

The local white wine, Txacolí, is pretty basic stuff. It tastes a bit like Muscadet with which it shares a slight prickle of carbon dioxide. If you order this you’ll get it served in the standard tumbler again usually poured in from a great height. The wine is really no great shakes, but it is a perfectly acceptable and refreshing drink.

In England drinking rosé wine is considered a bit girly, but there it is perfectly acceptable to be seen knocking back glass after glass of vinhos rosado. Again, most of the stuff served is at the ‘EU wine lake’-end of the quality spectrum, but is generally fruity and refreshing on a warm evening’s pintxos crawl.

Rioja is the nearest red wine region and this should worry you; Rioja is dreadful. The stuff served in bars is frighteningly awful, so avoid like the plague.

Drinking is very much part of the culture in the Basque country, so if you order Coca Cola when on a pintxos crawl you’ll be given a funny look unless you order it mixed with red wine in which case it is called a kalimotxo (very popular with the youths).