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A Tiny Beer Is the Perfect Escape Hatch for Bad Bars and Bad Dates

A Tiny Beer Is the Perfect Escape Hatch for Bad Bars and Bad Dates

Cañas in Madrid

I’d been in Madrid for a week, and I hadn’t yet fallen in love. With the city, I mean. I was there with my husband—and I fell in love with him more than 10 years ago. But this city, it just didn’t want to let us in.

We’d drunk plenty of cava and vermouth and full-bodied Spanish reds, nibbling away at olives and chips in tapas bars around town. But none of it quite fell into place until we enlisted professional help. As we pulled our stools up to a barrel table to begin our tapas education, we finally learned that in Madrid, life is measured out in tiny glasses of beer.

“The caña is the atom of social life in Madrid,” said Helena, our guide, as she handed us each a tiny glass. She said it almost in passing, as if this bit of knowledge was nothing, as if she had not just handed over a precious secret that would unlock Madrid’s doors.

A caña is precisely 200 milliliters of draught beer (about six ounces) poured with exacting technique and sold for a euro or two at virtually every tapas bar in town. Indeed, as we took our first sips, we noticed the barman filling tiny glass after tiny glass, letting the head just overflow and run down the sides, then tapping each glass on the counter to ensure that the faintest line of perfect froth stays in place until the last sip.

In truth, I’m not usually a beer fan. But this miniature chilled glass of pale, slightly bitter lager not only quenched my thirst but opened my heart. This was the moment when everything changed.

It seems strange now, to think of a tiny glass of beer as a secret code—a secret weapon, even—but this one gave us the gift of Madrid. As we came to think of our cañas not as drinks but as slices of time, my husband and I tossed our guidebook. We grew bold enough to wander into the most local of tapas bars, the ones packed shoulder-to-shoulder, with eye-burning fluorescent lights and mountains of napkins crumpled on the floor.

“Let’s just go for a caña,” one of us would say, knowing the bottom of that tiny glass would offer a perfect escape hatch after 15 minutes if the place just wasn’t a fit.

Madrileños take the same approach to first dates, Helena told us. Not sure you’ll like a potential suitor? Just go for a caña and where it leads.

While there are no guarantees in love, one thing is certain: Madrid is a city best romanced one caña at a time.

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