The perfect answer to a Spanish summer is a Spanish lager, but after nearly two years of living here, we still aren’t sure which we prefer. There are so many brands and styles available that it’s difficult to keep track of what we’ve already tried and which we prefer.
So mainly to help ourselves, and also anyone reading this, here is our definitive taste test of Spain’s most common cheap beers, without any “reservas”, and only a few imports. We are only tasting the cheap crap, the beers you buy in bulk to keep in your fridge to enjoy on a hot day. The Bud Lights of Spain, if you will. We even included a couple of store brand beers. Yes, you read that right, Spanish grocery store chains have their own brands of beers.
Mainly, we want to find the best cheap beer in Spain, but we also want to find a good balance between taste and price within the cheap category.
All of our testing was done blindfolded to avoid brand-bias. First we grouped the beers more or less randomly into four groups of four (FIFA World Cup style), and then tasted all of the beers within the same group against one another, 1vs1. Whichever beer tasted better in the test was given 1 point. The maximum number of points a beer could get was 12, that’s if a beer won every match-up, through two rounds of testing, with two testers.
The first beer we have is one of the most popular beers in Spain, and the one we see the most advertisements for.
This mid range Dutch beer is less popular than Estrella, but extremely common all over Spain both on tap and in supermarkets. It’s made by Heineken, so it’s got to be at least a little good.
These are store brand beers brought to us by the cheapest store in Spain (Mercadona). “Suave” is just a “smooth” variation on the Clásica (probably the “light” version).
- Amstel – 10
- Estrella – 6
- Clásica- 6
- Suave – 3
Suave came in dead last, and the few points it managed to get were probably flukes. It tastes more like a mineral water poured into an old beer can than an actual beer. Clásica did just as well as Estrella, but the flavor is much weaker, it’s a good PBR replacement if nothing else. Amstel solidly won, but looking at the notes we took it’s hard to see why. It was just a middle of the road, averagely good beer.
Sadly called the worst beer in Spain by tourists and locals alike. Even my underage high school kids openly admit that they don’t like it (this is a bad sign). I think people hate it because, unlike most beers in Spain it’s a pilsner (so more bitter than your average lager). We actually really like it, but only when it’s frosty cold. Anything warmer than frosty and it tastes like ass. It also could just be that we lived where it was brewed and we got it fresher than anyone else.
Two brothers name Kutz moved to Basque Country back in the 1880s and started brewing this beer. The recipe was bought by S.A Damm, and they apparently haven’t altered it at all. We only started seeing it pop up a few months back, but with all those awards and that history, it must be good right?
A beer that hails from Granada (Andalucia), which we have only ever had while visiting Granada, and neither of us have anything, bad or good, to say about it. It’s generic and has a picture of the Alhambra on it. How original.
Sabor a Sur
This is the knock off store brand of Cruzcampo (Steinburg, Mercadona), and we got it just for kicks. It was worth testing to see if it was better or worse than the original. See the red can with gold highlights (copying Cruzcampo and Alhambra) and the Flamenco dancer on it? Total stereotype of Andalucia. That’s like putting a high surfer dude on a California thing or an obese old man on a Florida brand. Stereotypes, ya’ll.
- Alhambra- 8
- Keler- 7
- Sabor- 6
- Cruzcampo – 5
Cruzcampo is great on tap, in Andalucia, when it’s been perfectly chilled (or brewed two miles/3km away from us). But tastes like crap out of a can in the middle of a humid heat wave 400 miles/700 km from where it was canned. When Sabor went head-to-head with Cruzcampo, the results were mixed, but Sabor’s lack of flavor actually helped it here. Can’t hate what you can’t taste.
Alhambra and Keler were pretty evenly matched. Alhambra was more of a “normal beer” while Keler had a different “fruitiness” to it that we sometimes liked and sometimes didn’t.
Ask any person in Spain, they will tell you that Estrella Galicia is the best beer around. Don’t confuse it with Estrella Damm, because they’re totally different. The price is just a bit on the high end though (Really, 68 cents a can? In this economy!?).
San Miguel is one of the big names in Spanish beer. The original recipe was developed in the Philippines and was imported to Spain where it was bought by S.A Damm. The modern Spanish San Miguel is totally separate from the San Miguel found throughout Southeast Asia.
Mahou is a beloved beer that we expected to perform quite well, if for no other reason than lots of people claim to like it. I’ve never liked it, but I was excited to see if I’ve just been biased.
Finally Xibeca. I’ve only ever seen this in Mallorca, but it’s probably available in mainland Catalonia as well (the name is the Catalan word for owl). Either way we had never seen it on our journeys through non-Catalan Spain. The beer is much lighter and crisper than other beers, and is my favorite summer time beer. *When Chris was blindfolded would he still prefer it? Yes. Yes he did.
Max – 12
- Xibeca – 10
- Galicia – 7
- San Miguel – 6
- Mahou Clásica – 2
Galicia beer belongs to a special class of beer that Spain seems to adore. It’s the class of beer right above dirt cheap and right below fancy schmancy. To me, it just tastes like they added more malt to the mix and called it a day. So the beer ends up tasting heavy, sweet, bitter and overpowering. With a clear pallet the first sip tastes like cereal-milk.
Xibeca won, but it had a significant advantage. Right now it’s freaking hot in Spain. And the last thing you want when it’s hot is a heavy, bitter, and overpowering beer. You want something that makes you forget about the freaking heat for a moment. Mahou ended up on the bottom, but we both agreed that if we had to go to the fridge for another beer, it would be Xibeca first, Mahou second. Mostly because it was, if nothing else, refreshing. I know that I came into this test biased towards Xibeca, but I promise I couldn’t distinguish it from the others. *It’s true, I made him taste it a few times against others to test him -K.
Do we even have to talk about it? If you haven’t had a Heineken at least once…do you even drink beer? We decided to taste this against the Spanish beers because it’s the most widely available beer in Spain, when a Spanish beer isn’t an option. It’s also a good point of reference for you folks back home. And we have fond memories of “treating” ourselves to Heineken (damn that sounds sad) back when we lived in Asia, so maybe this will trigger those happy memories and get a good score.
While not the cheapest option here just look at that can. Have you ever seen something that screams “store brand” more? It’s literally just saying “Toasted” on the front. Not even an exclamation point. Just a standard issue “beer”. It’s got a hop on it (in case you’re illiterate) and a man drinking beer (who isn’t even happy about it). While we swear we were blindfolded it tasted as exciting as its packaging.
Aurum is a store brand, but from a nicer store than the other store brand beers. If the Steinbergs and the Tostada would be from the Spanish Walmart, then Aurum is from the Spanish Target. An Aurum (not sure which) made it pretty high on the “Best Beers of Spain” according to the Spanish consumer report organization, so maybe this one will be good as well.
Mahou 5 Star is the slightly-better-but-still-in-the-same-price-range as the Mahou Clásica, which scored a measly 2 points. I’m thinking that when people told me that Mahou was the best, they were talking about THIS Mahou. We’ll see.
Max – 12
- Aurum – 9
- Mahou – 8
- Heineken – 5
- Tostada – 2
Mahou 5 Star is, indeed, the beer people are talking about. BUT Aurum was still better. And you also have to consider that Aurum is a third of the price… Nobody liked Tostada, and Heineken was just a more expensive version of every lager we’ve already tried.
A basic rule of thumb while visiting Spain. If the restaurant has Heineken on tap, your food is probably going to be good, but definitely overpriced. It’s both the tourist beer and the yuppie beer. No offense to Eric and ourselves but it’s a dink beer.
For reference, all of those prices were for a .33L can (the normal size for a soda). Compare those prices to brand name Coke-a-Cola at 62 cents, and a store brand cola at 26 cents, and you can see that in many cases beer is cheaper than soda.
The winners from all four rounds were:
- Amstel – 10 (59 cents)
- Alhambra – 8 (55 cents)
- Xibeca – 10 (49 cents)
- Aurum – 9 (25 cents)
Obviously, we could stop the test right there and say that any of these 4 beers could be considered the winner. But we wanted to find the ultimate winner, so we did one final test.
- Xibeca- 9
- Aurum- 8
- Alhambra- 8
- Amstel- 6
This was the most difficult test of them all, and the fact is we enjoyed all 4 almost equally. It was really hard to get consistent results, but we feel confident about them.
Almost all of Xibecas points came from Chris, and he was extremely consistent, meanwhile Kaeti only awarded it 1 point. Alhambra got an equal number of points from both of us. And only Amstel can be considered a “loser”.
However the star has to be Aurum. It was Kaeti’s prefered beer, and Chris’ second prefered. Also, at only 25 cents a can, the price for a 12 pack is only 3 Euros (and I saw it on sale today for 2.50). Meanwhile Xibeca is twice the price, and can only be found in stores on the other side of town.
Long live El Rey de las Cervezas Españoles:
Although……The Spanish beer that gets the most recognition, domestically and globally, wasn’t part of our test.
That beer would be Ambar.
The 2019 World Beer Challenge awarded gold medals to 10 Spanish beers. Of those 10, fully HALF were from the Ambar brewery, including their standard issue “Especial” that only costs a measly 50 cents a can.
So why didn’t we test this miracle beer? Because NOBODY in our town, the 2nd largest town on the island with a population of ~40,000, sells this freaking beer. I looked in every supermarket in town. It’s not here.
We can find it in the capital, just a short 3 hour round trip journey away. But since this test only covered beers that are common and easy findable, Ambar got left out.
There are TONS of beers that did not make it onto the test. Almost every brand we tested has at least 4 different beers on the market, and if we wanted to we could run this test three more times, and then arrive at a true FINAL winner. And maybe we will, who knows!