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23 Feb 2012

Banana Liqueur and Tropical Beer: Canary Island Drinks Guide

Tropical beer from Gran Canaria with its dog logo


It's easy to come to the Canary islands for a week or two and drink nothing but imported spirits and beer. They may be what you are used to, but they come at premium prices. The local stuff is just as tasty, and always cheaper!

Canary Island wines are getting more and more famous, especially the roses from Lanzarote, (More in this post), reds from Tenerife, and sweet wines from La Palma. A big post on Canarian wine is on my to do list ...

Canarian Beer: Tropical and Dorada

Canary Island beer is good stuff. Gran Canaria has its own brand, called Tropical, while Tenerife makes Dorada. Both island swear by the utter superiority of their beer, even though both breweries are owned by South African giant SAB Miller! Tropical is a little richer, while Dorada is drier. Both are good on a hot day! Personally I prefer Dorada, but as a Gran Canaria inhabitant this is controversial! Reina, from Tenerife, is also a good bet.

Dorada comes in a brown bottle with a red label. Its logo includes Tenerife's famous Teide volcano. Tropical comes in a green bottle with a green and gold label. Its logo is a dog's head. This comes from the famous iron dogs in the main square in front of Las Palmas' cathedral. Local legend states that they were meant to be Canarian dogs, but that the makers in Britain didn't know what the looked like. Instead of Canary mastiffs and bardinos, the British sent labradors and spaniels instead.


When the sculptures arrived in Gran Canaria, in about 1870, it was too late and too expensive to send them back to be made again. This is why the dogs in front of the Santa Ana Cathedral in Las Palmas look very British. One has pheasants at its feet! There are even an identical set of iron dogs outside the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals in Hatfield!

Traditionally, Canarians drank beer out of small, brown bottles with no labels called botellines. They hold about 20cc of beer. The logic is that you could drink the beer before it warmed up, and then order another While botellines still exist, Tropical and Dorada now come on tap and in standard bottles. A pint of the local brew is often far fresher, and cheaper, than imported lager.

Canarian Rum

Rum may well have been invented in the Canary Islands. Sugar cane was once a huge crop on the islands. It declined when plantations using slaves started up in the Caribbean. The tradition of making rum on the island never died out and it is still the most popular local tipple. The biggest brand is Ron Arehucas, with Artemi a distant second.

Canarian rum is made fom molasses in tthe same style as the famous Cuban Havana Club and the Nicaraguan Flora de Caña. It is light and golden with a hint of woodiness. Most bars also stock clear version because people think it is better for hangovers. Make sure you ask for Arehucas or Artemi, as some of the cheaper brands can be pretty rough.

Canarian drink rum mixed with coke and plenty of ice in a highball glass, called a "vaso de tubo". Instead of calling it a Cuba Libre, Canarians shorten the name to a Cubata. To really fit in, order "un Cubata", rather than the more logical "una Cubata" (words ending in "a" are feminine in Spanish and need a la). This is because the full name is "El Cuba Libre". Canarian barmen will appreciate the gesture!

Take care with Canary Island measures when you order spirits. Rather than your namby pamby UK measures, barmen here pour until the ice cubes float. Most rum and cokes contain about 100 ml of booze: that 4 British single measures!

Honey Rum

The chances are you will get a shot of honey rum (ron miel) after a meal anywhere in the Canary Islands. It has become the drink you give tourists after their meal. Canarians rarely drink it unless they have a cold! Ron miel is intensely sweet and almost sticky: It really does help a sore throat. If you don't fancy it, ask for a blackberry liqueur (licor de moras). It's still sweet, but tastier!


Cider

Recently the Gran Canarian town of Valleseco has started making a scrumpy-style cider. We haven't tried it yet as last year's bottles sold out fast. As soon as we get hold of a bottle we'll let you know what it's like. More details in this post about Valleseco and its cider.

Banana Liqueur

 The ultimate
cheesy (wel, banana-ey) Canary Island souvenir: Canarian banana liqueur comes in a bottle shaped like a bunch of bananas. It is a bright, unnatural yellow colour and tastes even sweeter than ron miel. Banana liqueur's intense banana flavour is useful for a few lurid cocktails, but otherwise it is best left well alone. It does make a great chintzy gift for an aunty though!