Thursday, 4 October 2012

Booze Tourism part 4: Ibiza, and... part 3 of the Wedding Trilogy; The Honeymoon

Hello! And thanks for coming back for another instalment of Booze Tourism, and part three of my wedding trilogy. This time I’ll be focusing on observations and experiences from my recent honeymoon in Ibiza. This episode will be something of a departure in that this is the first time I’ve actually been a booze tourist since this blog began – all previous instalments were based on trips that occurred before I began writing the blog, and were therefore entirely constructed from memory – like back in March when I wrote the first booze tourism article about Venice

When I embarked on that trip (and the others), I had no idea that I would later be writing a blog that would draw upon it. This time then, I was actively looking for things to write about, and trying to form ideas of what I might say as I went along. As a result, you might find that I have a lot more to say.

To prevent this from becoming a long, rambling, eye-stinging jumble of text that no one has the time or inclination to read, I’m actually going to split it into sections, so it’s easier for you to find the bits you might be interested in. I’ll try to fit anecdotes and detail around that basic structure, and we’ll see how it goes. So before we get to the really interesting things, let’s start with the essential...

Spanish Lager, or Cerveza

San Miguel
I think I can safely say I’ve never tried a Spanish lager that I didn’t like – from the first time I ever tried San Miguel, to the Estrella cans that random people sell you on the streets of Barcelona... There don’t really seem to be that many types, but they’re all good. At various points during the holiday I bought 6 to 8 cans of each (as well as the odd giant bottle of San Miguel (I love those things).

Cruzcampo on the beach
I have to say though, despite having been a devotee to beer for many years, I probably couldn’t really tell one from the other if put to the test. But that’s all fine. They’re strong, they taste good, stick em in your fridge and bring one out to chug down when it gets hot – which it invariably does.

I drank one or two beers in the various bars and restaurants we visited, but it seemed a shame to pay bar prices when we had a terrace back at our accommodation, and a fridge to keep our beers cold.

You can see from my various pictures that I most frequently bought multiple 330ml cans. That’s pretty normal in Spain. One of the supermarkets we visited (in Cala Vadella) actually had some 440ml cans (the type we’re more used to in the UK), but in that heat, 330ml is fine. You don’t need to be stuck drinking a large can when your beer is rapidly warming in the Spanish heat – even when you try to keep it in the shade. Sure, my friends and I used to laugh at the characters in Aussie soap Neighbours for drinking those tiny beers (what’s the matter with them? Lightweights!) but it makes sense, and if you want more, just open another one. It’s at least cold, because it’s been waiting for you in the fridge.

Cruzcampo, San Miguel, Mahou and Estrella were all represented at some point during the 7 days. The only other Spanish beer I can think of just now is Alhambra, but I didn’t see that anywhere. I think that’s more visible in the South of Spain, being that it’s named after the famous building in Granada.

One of the best things about Spain is the availability of booze. Pretty much any store that sells food also sells booze, so you can nip into a bakery, pick up a croissant, and also get a giant bottle of San Miguel… which you can then drink as you walk through the streets, or on the beach, or anywhere. No one cares and there is no stigma, unlike here in the UK.

There was one beach we visited, Cala Salada, where a couple of people had set up their own businesses selling mojitos. They carried all the various paraphernalia in rucksacks, then sat under a parasol mixing the drinks. We didn’t have one, but they looked nice, and it was a nice idea. It was just a shame that you had to drive to the beach, so drinking strong cocktails wasn’t an option for me (much as I would have liked to). As a business venture, it probably wouldn’t win funding on Dragon’s Den, but you’ve got to appreciate the effort.

I suppose the choice of beer in Spain is limited compared to the UK, and that might get tiresome if you actually lived there, but for a visit it’s sufficient.

Aguardiente de Orujo

Booze cavern
If you read my preview to this post, “Looking forward to theDuty Free”, you will recall that aguardiente de orujo was one of my main targets for this trip. Being a fan of Italian grappa, and hearing that this was the Spanish equivalent, I determined I needed to find some. It didn’t take long. On our second (or maybe third) day in Cala Vadella we walked across the beach and up to the local supermarket where, tucked away in the back was an awesome booze cavern.

Before I go any further, one thing you need to know about Spain (besides the fact you can buy booze nearly anywhere) is that they have fantastic booze shops that put our UK ‘specialist’ stores like Carringtons to shame. Even this tiny supermarket had a better variety and selection of booze than most booze shops back home. Somewhat surprisingly, wine was kept to a minimum and intriguing spirits and liqueurs were all over the place. A lot of them were dusty, adding even greater mystique to their appeal.

I knew what I was after, so I bypassed the scotch and the rest of the whiskies, the brandies and the rums – even the grappas, of which there were a few - and stepped into uncharted territory where I didn’t know what the bottles contained. And there I found what I was looking for – two distinct bottles marked aguardiente de orujo.

They were both in unusual bottles that looked like they might have been of more than a passing interest to Indiana Jones – as if they contain the soul of Jesus Christ and the breast milk of the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Mary's breast milk?

The first, in a grey rectangular shaped bottle, had a price sticker on the top that said 12 euros, while the second was in a more bulbous brown bottle that was for me more intriguing. This one didn’t have any price on it, so I asked the young checkout girl. She didn’t know, so she asked the older lady who was behind the cheese counter.

“Three ninety”, she said (in Spanish).

“Three ninety”, said the girl (in English).

“Three ninety?” said I, also in English. It took me some time to absorb this.


Three ninety?”


“Three… ninety?”


I didn’t know what to do with this information, and I already knew what the answer to my next question would be, but I felt like I needed more information.

“…do you know if it’s any good? ‘Cos this other one’s like, 12 euros...”


That was the answer I was expecting.

It appears it was 3.90. I was already prepared for having to make the tough choice between the two bottles, but this actually made things more complicated. I was initially more drawn to the brown bottle, and wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be astronomically expensive. This was a different prospect altogether – it was microscopically inexpensive. What was I supposed to draw from that?!? How good could 70cl of strong alcohol be (42% ABV, another attractive detail) if it only costs 3 euros and 90 cents?

I remembered that at home we have a few phrases that might provide some guidance; you get what you pay for; you buy cheap, you buy twice and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. But wouldn’t it be stupid to pay 12 euros for a bottle when I could get one for under 4?

What a quandary. I didn’t go expecting to buy more than one bottle of aguardiente, so I wanted to make sure I got one I’d enjoy. How are you supposed to make these decisions? Well, it went like this: 3.90 is so cheap that if I didn’t like it, I could just throw it away and buy a different bottle. I suppose I could have bought both, but I exercised a bit of restraint for one, and opted for the cheap one: RuaVieja. I can’t remember what the other one was called.

As you can imagine, I couldn’t wait to try it later that evening. When later came, I twisted the cap and poured it into one of the glasses we’d borrowed from our apartment’s bar. It was a clear liquid. It looked like grappa, it smelled like grappa… it tasted like grappa. Fantastic, I love it. And did I mention it was only 3.90? Mrs Cake and I regaled each other with stories of the purchase for the next few days, and now I’m telling you. 3.90!

When we arrived in our second destination, Santa Eulalia in the east of Ibiza’s southern coast, I found a few more excellent booze shops, and made sure to look up RuaVieja to see whether 3.90 was the correct price, or whether I’d gotten a bargain. I found it normally sold for 12 euros, so that was excellent. To be honest, this stuff is so good that it would be a bargain at twice that – especially when you consider how expensive grappa can be in the UK.

Also available were a couple of other varieties, one a cream version and the other a liqueur version with respective alcohol contents of around 24% and 17%.

Being that I was on holiday, I was able to dip into the RuaVieja nearly every evening, sitting on various terraces, sometimes accompanied by a cheap (but nice) cigar that took about 50 minutes to smoke. It was during one of these sessions that I happened to see the lady in the hotel room next to ours completely naked, so that was nice. Let this be a lesson to you: net curtains are not sufficient for preserving your modesty at night when you turn the light on.
Living the dream

There was one major drawback with the RuaVieja; it had one of those screw caps that never reaches an acceptable level of tightness. You could tighten slightly, and then it would just push through to become loose again. I wasn’t intending to drink the whole bottle on holiday, so it presented a problem as to how I was going to get my booty home without leaking its contents all over my bag.

We decided we would just buy some tape, and began the quest of trying to find some. In the UK you can buy tape nearly anywhere, and if you don’t know where to buy something, there’s always the pound shop.

It’s not like that in Spain. They have those tat (I mean ‘gift’) shops everywhere, and they look like our pound shops, but while they do occasionally branch out from stocking tat – such as plastic gorillas you squeeze to make boobies pop out - to carrying a few practical items, tape isn’t one of them. Similarly, supermarkets limit their wares exclusively to food and beverage items.

On the last day it was starting to get desperate, when I saw a shop called Bricolaje, and a conversation I once had with one of our Spanish student lodgers came to mind. I had been telling him about how I was going to be doing ‘DIY’ that weekend, and he didn’t understand what it was. After explaining, I asked what DIY would be called in Spain, and after thinking about it for a while, he decided it was probably ‘bricolaje’. So that bit of knowledge proved useful and I was able to procure some tape and make sure my RuaVieja made it back to Manchester. For good measure I also put it in a ziplock bag. There was a tiny bit of leakage within there, but nothing significant.

I haven’t had occasion to try it again since my return, but I’m looking forward to doing a comparison test with Tesco’s Grappa JuliaSuperiore

One final thing; here’s an interesting site with a little more info. It doesn’t look the most professional, but there are some interesting things on there.


 “Sun, sea, sex and sangria” is a phrase you might have heard before – maybe you saw it on a t-shirt in the 80s. It’s a piece of alliteration that is commonly used to flippantly describe Spanish holidays. Well, we all know what the first three are, but what is sangria?

Sun, sea...
It’s a drink. Yes, we knew that, but can I be more specific? The answer to that question is: only a little. See, I’d never had sangria before. A bit of checking on Wikipedia reveals that it’s a wine-based punch, popular in Spain, Portugal and Argentina. I kind of knew that without really knowing it, but that’s as far as Wikipedia goes. It seems the recipe is variable.

It’s not something I’d normally think about drinking but… I do write a booze blog, and I was on holiday in Spain. Mrs Cake and I saw another guest at our apartment complex in Cala Vadella carrying a jug back from the bar to the pool area and we thought, we should do that. and sangria
So we did. Unfortunately, the barmaid had nearly finished making it by the time it occurred to me that it might be useful to take note of what she was putting in it. She definitely put some vermouth in there (Martini Rosso, I think), but other than that and the various chopped fruits, I didn’t see. There were at least 4 spirits, and I think she may have topped it up with cranberry juice, or something like that. If it was wine, it was wine out of a carton rather than a bottle. There were also chunks of orange, lemon, apple and kiwi which we enjoyed eating after the drink was gone.

Nevertheless, it was delicious. I was particularly hot that day, and I could have dispatched that whole jug in an instant. Mrs Cake suggested I nip back to the apartment and pick up a beer instead, to ensure I left some for her.

Hierbas Ibicencas and Absinthe

A few years ago Mrs Cake went to Ibiza with some of her friends. She brought a whole bunch of presents back for me, and one was a bottle of Hierbas Ibicencas. What’s that? This might provide the kind of information you’d like to know 

If you can’t be bothered to read all that, it’s an interesting Ibizan alcoholic drink, made from herbs such as rosemary and thyme, and it tastes very aniseedy. The most interesting thing about it is that (as you can see from the various pictures) there are all twigs in the bottle. I’m still fairly new to this booze blogging lark, but I haven’t seen that anywhere else yet.

It took me quite a while to polish off that first bottle, but I used to down a small glass while I was cooking from time to time. I think it’s intended more as an after dinner type thing – a digestif, which just sounds like trying to make a legitimate excuse for having a drink to me. Look, do you want a drink? Yes. Then have one. You don’t need to say, I’ve finished me dinner, I’d better have a digestif… I don’t know: them Europeans.

So, I did decide that should I go to Ibiza, and providing it wasn’t too expensive, I would get another bottle of Hierbas Ibicencas. It turns out it’s not too expensive, but to be fair, it’s difficult to find any booze in Ibiza that’s too expensive – unless you go in the clubs. It’s all I could do to make sure I didn’t buy everything.

The first place I saw Hierbas Ibicencas was in the small shop in our apartment complex. A 20cl bottle was 4.90. Now, I’m not a massive fan of aniseed, so I figured a 20cl bottle would suit me just fine, and I like those hip flask shaped bottles you can get.

Mrs Cake said I’d probably be able to get it a lot cheaper, so I figured it would be best to wait until we got to the town of Santa Eulalia before ultimately deciding on a purchase. Oddly, all the bottles in the town were more expensive. Only by another euro or so, but you know, once you’ve seen something for one price, you don’t want to pay more. So it wasn’t until we had a day in Ibiza Town that I got around to buying.

It was a shop by the marina where they actually had four types you could try. Mrs Cake asked the proprietor if we could, and he asked which one we wanted to try. I thought that was a bit tight – I wanted to try them all and then decide which one I wanted to buy. He indicated that two of the four on offer were the best – one had an alcohol content of around 25%, and the other 35%. Well, you know me – when given a choice, the strongest wins. I tried them both anyway. The first (lower alcohol) was sweet and tasted just like the bottle that Mrs Cake had bought me all that time ago. The second was much more to my taste; more savoury, less sticky, more like a spirit. This was something I could drink for relaxation in an evening, if I fancied a change from the usual whisky or grappa. I made my purchase. I think it was 4.30.

One thing I didn’t realise before I started booze shopping was that they also make absinthe in Ibiza. It has a similar aniseedy taste to Hierbas Ibicencas, so I suppose that makes sense. As soon as I saw I could get a small bottle of that for a similar price, I figured it would be rude not to, really.

The first time I ever bought a bottle of absinthe, it cost me over £40… which means it is still the second most expensive bottle I ever bought. It was back in 2000, when (it seemed) people in the UK were first starting to hear about it – a psychedelic alcoholic drink that would make you hallucinate and had caused Van Gogh to sever his ear. How could I resist that? I’ve got two ears…

Another explanation for the Van Gogh thing is that his flatmate, Paul Gauguin put glue on the phone, and then went out and called it. I have no idea if that one’s true. It seems unlikely, since the glue would have to remain sticky for however long it took to get to the phone, and then stick instantly and permanently once Van Gogh put it to his ear.

I had to order a bottle from an advert in Viz magazine, and have it delivered to a friend’s house (I was still living with my parents at the time).

I lived in Rotherham, and my friend in Newcastle, so it was a couple of hours of train journey before I could get my mitts on it. That meant I’d had at least four (possibly six) cans of beer before I got to his house, and it wasn’t many more minutes after that that we were having a joint.

I found out then that these aren’t ideal starting conditions for drinking absinthe. Absinthe is typically around 70% ABV, and we would have been drinking fairly quickly. I soon fell asleep - sitting, with my head on my knees.

That wasn’t the end of the evening though. If a university education taught me anything, it was how to prolong and survive a session. A brief powernap later, and I was compus mentus enough to rejoin the party. Later that night I got lost on the way to the toilet – and not for the last time, but there were definitely no ear-severing incidents. Being drunk in other people’s houses is confusing.

If you check this Wikipedia article, you can see that there’s quite a complicated procedure for drinking absinthe. The booklet that came with the bottle described some variation of the Bohemian Method, saying you should pour a little absinthe over a teaspoon of sugar then set it alight. You would then watch it burn until the sugar caramelises. We had a lot of trouble with that. For one thing, what’s the point in having extra strong alcohol if you’re going to burn some of the alcohol off? Secondly, how do you know when the sugar has caramelised? I still don’t know the answer to that one (or the first one for that matter).

Knowing that the longer we allowed the vapour to burn, the less alcohol would remain on the teaspoon, we soon decided that the sugar had probably caramelised. The next step then, is to tip the contents of the spoon into a glass of absinthe and stir it around. This obviously caused the absinthe in the glass to catch fire, and there were no instructions as to what we should do with this – blow it out? Leave it? Drink it?

I can see now, from the Wikipedia article that you’re supposed to pour a shot of water into the glass to extinguish the flames. That definitely didn’t form part of the instructions we were following. We ended up doing a combination of the first two ideas, before doing the third. None of the sugar had dissolved, which perhaps is the purpose of this whole rigmarole, so we ended up pouring burning sugar granules down our throats.

It’s not entirely pleasant, but I have repeated this ritual a few times since. You can’t really drink absinthe straight because it burns your gullet like crazy. It immediately gives you the alcoholic equivalent of bread chest. The Bohemian method also gets you smashed real quick, because if you do follow those instructions, you feel instantly changed, and ready to party.

I’ll be trying the “French Method” shortly, so keep a look out for my post on that.

Duty Free

If you remember from my preview, I was really looking forward to hitting the duty free. It was something of a disappointment though, when we finally got to it. The booze shops in Ibiza generally are so good and the booze so cheap that duty free really isn’t all that special. Nevertheless, despite being tempted on numerous occasions throughout the holiday (one of my targets, Cutty Sark was selling at 11 euros) I told myself that once I’d gotten the aguardiente de orujo for drinking during the holiday, and bottles of hierbas ibicencas and absinthe for taking home, I would save my booze budget for the duty free.

As I say, it was a little disappointing. I’d been hoping to pick up some special scotch, but there wasn’t all that much in that respect (there was a disproportionate amount of brandy, and I wasn’t in the market for that). They did have a Highland Park, but it wasn’t the 21 years old at 47.5% ABV that I had been hoping to find, instead it was a bottle marked “1998” that had been “bottled exclusively for international travel” and the alcohol content was only 40%. I was still tempted, and at 53 euros it was still within my budget, but the alcohol content put me off, and I didn’t even bother to find out what the 1998 meant – was that when it was bottled? Or was that when it began aging?

When we arrived back in Manchester, and passed through that last duty free shop that you get to before entering arrivals, there was a Highland Park marked “2001”. So further investigation will be necessary for future occasions.

The wrong Dewar's
There was no Cutty Sark, but they did have my other target, Dewar’s 12 Year Old. I hadn’t realised it was a blend, but apparently they age the whisky for a year after it has been blended also, and it was recommended in my whisky book, 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen an aged blend.

Having checked my book again last night, I’m not actually sure it’s the same one, though. The one in the book has a black label, and says “Special Reserve”. Mine has a blue label, and says, “Double Aged”. Yeah, it looks like I didn’t even get the right one. Goddammit!

It was 35 euros, which has converted to £28 (for a litre), so I’ve got a lot of booze budget left for the future, and I believe this will be the most expensive blended scotch I’ve bought so far, though that only equates to £19.60 for 70cl, which is actually only a little bit more expensive than the Black Grouse.

 The only issue now is that it will be quite a while before I can buy anything else because I’ve got a lot of unfinished bottles and now four unopened ones (my brother-in-law brought a bottle of Maker’s Mark over from Canada with him), so I need to make a bit of headway and at least finish one of my brandies and one of my blended scotches first. There are certainly many adventures to come.

You can find a review of the Dewar’s (the one that I actually bought) here. Perhaps I ought to have read that before I travelled, as it looks like I might have another uninspiring blend to get rid of… a litre of it this time. I probably should have gone for a single malt, but there wasn’t that much to choose from. Well, you never know; I might still like it – Scotchnoob has based his review on a miniature, and I could name many times that I haven’t started to appreciate a whisky until I’m halfway down the bottle, so we’ll see.


Shall we have a conclusion, then? We may as well. The main thing I’d like you to take away from all this is that Spain is an excellent place to go if you’re a booze tourist. The shops are filled with tons of fascinating bottles of various things, and most of them are very reasonably priced. You can drink virtually anywhere, and they produce a lot of their own varieties so there’s plenty you can bring back to impress your friends with. If your friends aren’t impressed, you can gaze at them lovingly, and enjoy a nice drink on your own.

I certainly made sure I sampled a few things this time round, and there’s plenty left over for future visits. I didn’t think about it at the time, but it might be worthwhile seeing if there’s a hierbas ibicencas producer that you can visit. How likely it is I’m ever going to return to Ibiza again is hard to say at this point, but we had such a lovely time that I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

I hope this has been of some help to you, and if not, at least a little bit interesting. Look out for future Booze Tourism posts, and the follow up on that bottle of absinthe. I’ll see you soon.

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