Notes from Spain
Just came from Spain and wanted to share my thoughts on Beer. Ok, BAD news first: There are no good beers in Madrid, and there are not Great beers in Spain, in general. You can buy imported great beers in the supermarket, though. Aside from that, there are some nice/drinkable regional beers. I will just list them, so if someone goes there, you can skip the torture of tasting lots of awful beer. The best one is from Galicia: "1906 Estrella de Galicia" (is has to be "1906", do not buy the regular Estrella de Galicia, which is pretty bad), the next one if from Zaragoza: “Zaragozana Export", then "Mezquita", "Alhambra Reserva-Especial", and then far behind "Voll damn-doble malta" and "Legado de Yuste". If anyone knows another worthy Spanish beer, share it, please. Meanwhile, I think one is better off drinking good affordable wine over there.
I visited Spain not too long ago and noticed the same thing. The Spanish don't have much of a brewing heritage due to the climate. Plus, since they produce more wine per capita than just about anyone else, they have always drunk a lot of wine.
The up side is that beer is cheap. I think a pint glass of Cruz Campo runs about 50 cents in Seville. It's just not all that tasty.
All of those beers that you mention are very easy to find in Madrid, with the exception of the Zaragozana. I like the Alhambra 1925. Bars tend to specialize depending on what food/snacks they serve, so if you want a Andaluz beer you to to an Andaluz bar; Gallego beer a Gallego bar, sidra an Asturiano place, etc. For the draft beers (served in tiny little cañas), Cruz Campo and San Miguel are in my opinion the worst. Alhambra, Estrella Galicia, and Mahou are better. But at a euro a glass, it's hard to demand too much.
Beer in Spain goes back to Carlos V (1500s), so it's not exactly new. But I can't disagree that the wine is certainly a more serious drink here. Beer is just beer and most people don't even care enough about it to even specify one brand over another.
Of course Irish Bars are quite popular in Madrid, which is another option... But if you are just visiting, obviously you should try to check out wine bars.
i totally disagree, LRS. there is nothing like a caña. its not fancy, its not rich or heavy or scented with this-and-that. its tiny, cold, frothy and perfect. there is no fuss about long beer lists or opportunities for connosieurism. beer is beer, generally mahou or estrella, the only question is size: caña, tubo, pinta or jarra. of which the caña is without any question the best: you drink it fast so it stays supercold. its no commitment: 'tomamos una caña' is the lightest and easiest form of sociability you could ask for. and cheap!
for long lists and lots of choices and rich subtle flavors we have wine. but at the corner bar on a hot day: ¡viva la caña!