Of Bullfights and Brandies: Travel in Madrid

Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Zorco was a little better. It reminded me of the anise we’d had earlier at the bullfighting bar. It was good, although I preferred the anise.

When a couple of expats — a husband and wife who lived in England but spent some time out of every year in Madrid — came to the bar, chatted with the bartender, and walked to an outside table with a specially steamed glass of brandy and a big cigar, I took notice. I’d wanted to try Spanish brandy and hadn’t yet. I struck up a conversation with the expats and asked him to recommend one.

1866 Solera Gran Reserv

“You can’t go wrong with anything on the top shelf,” he said and pointed. “But my recommendation? The 1866.”

I ordered a snifter of 1866 Solera Gran Reserva, a brandy produced in La Mancha. The bar tender had been polite the entire evening as we tried different drinks.

When I placed this order, he seemed to light up as though he liked having a foreigner ask for the best of the best his country had to offer. He took the bottle from the top shelf and uncorked it. He then used what appeared to be an espresso maker to steam the oversized snifter. He poured in a generous serving of the Spanish brandy.

Maybe it was the mood we were in. Perhaps the surroundings on a Saturday night in the heart and soul of Spain, in Puerta del Sol — Gateway to the Sun. Maybe it was the rich décor or the drinks we’d already enjoyed beginning to alter our perception. But at that moment, I was convinced that 1866 was the best brandy or cognac I’d ever tasted.

Half an hour later, knowing we needed to head back to the hotel and get some sleep for the following day, we put down our empty glasses and asked for the check. But the bartender refused — instead, he steamed fresh glasses and offered another (gratis) hearty helping of 1866. It was a perfect ending to a great day.

1866 Brandy.
1866 Brandy

I haven’t had an opportunity to test just how good 1866 is. I had planned to purchase a bottle at the duty free shop in the airport. But a couple days later, when we went to the airport for our early a.m. flight, the duty free shops had not yet opened.

No problem, I figured on the flight from Madrid to Paris. I’ll just order a bottle from the duty-free catalog. Apparently, international flights within the European Union do not offer duty-free sales. There was no duty-free catalog.

I searched the duty free shops at the airport in Paris. But, of course, they did not carry Spanish brandy. Only cognac, scotch and whisky. In fact, when I dared to ask, the lady at the counter raised her nose in an offended huff. “We don’t carry Spanish brandy here.”
Then, I was surprised to find that on the flight from Paris to the United States, the duty free catalog did not include alcohol.

I asked the stewardess about it; she insisted I was wrong. “Of course there is alcohol in the duty free catalog.”

I gave her mine and asked her to find it.

“Strange,” she said. She searched another catalog, from her station. “It appears there is no alcohol in our duty free selections.”

Since I’ve been back in the states, I have not been able to find 1866 at any of our local liquor stores. But I’m determined to try it again.

For now, I’ll sip my brandies, scotches and cognacs and imagine that they remain second to one of my new favorites: 1866. I’d rather kill a bottle of 1866 from La Mancha than a bull from Madrid. Ah, to dream the impossible dream.

If You Travel to Spain:

Want to go? Whether you take the bull by the horns or the bottle by the neck, there are countless airlines that will take you to Madrid, Spain. Plaza Mayor, where we sampled the bullfighting bar that Hemingway did and enjoyed tapas with wine, is only a few blocks through the cobblestoned side streets from Puerta del Sol, where we sampled a variety of Spanish brandies in a traditional bar.

The walk from one plaza to the other, and taking in the sights, was half the fun. If you’re staying in Madrid, it’s likely to be within walking distance of your hotel. Any guide book or tourist map will easily direct you to these and a multitude of other plazas in the “Old Madrid” area. Be sure to bring your appetite!

Author Bio: Eric D. Goodman enjoys traveling as much as he loves writing. His fiction and travel stories have been published in many periodicals, including Go Nomad, InTravel Magazine, Travel Mag, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac, Grub Street, Scribble Magazine, and others. Eric’s the author of the award-winning Tracks: A Novel in Stories about travelers who connect on a train, and Flightless Goose, a storybook for children. His newest book, Womb: a novel in utero was published this spring. Learn more about Eric and his work at www.EricDGoodman.com and connect with him at www.Facebook.com/EricDGoodman.