I haven’t been to Spain. It’s not a matter of desire but a matter of opportunity and timing. Believe me. Spain has always been on the top of my list. I’ve researched, watched videos, looked at villas, and read books. You can say I practically planned the entire trip.
My destination was decidedly easy, the Andalusian region. A typical Spanish destination, mediterranean climate, flamenco dancing, bull fighting, vineyards, orange groves and jamón ibérico.
This was obviously before my cider affinity. I knew very little about the basque region and I especially knew nothing about Spanish cider. Now that cider is my new food group, I would probably stay in Spain longer.
Between January and May, cider lovers visit their favorite sagardotegi or “cider house” to taste the new vintage before it is bottled, while enjoying classic basque cuisine. Sound fun? Well here is how the night really goes.
A lively and hungry crowd finds a table, knowing they will be taking several trips to the kegs. They may choose to stand. This is a social gathering so mingling is encouraged. A first course is served, typically a salt cod omelette or fried cod with peppers. Spaniards love to sing and dance so expect an active crowd. Someone, which could be at your table, on the other side of the room or the cider house owner, calls out a “txotx”, which means “to break out the cider.” Those who are ready, take their glass to a cavernous section lined with chestnut barrels.
A spout with a nipple is release and a thin long arc of fresh cider flows from the keg. Here is where it gets messy and fun. A thirsty Spaniard places his or her glass well below the keg to aerate the cider, making the still beverage temporarily fizzy. As the cider fountain continues, the next one in line repeats the process, taking care not to lose any cider.
Drinkers may gulp the sidra immediately or take it back to their table. Another course follows, usually a grilled steak followed by more cider and finally a cheese course with apples and walnuts. And more sidra and fun all night long.
I have to face the fact that the closest way I am getting to an actual sagardotegi any time soon will be through You Tube. But I can have Spanish cider here in the tiny state of Delaware.
Isastegi is located at the foot of Mount Intxurre, in the town of Tolosa, an area rich in apples. When their own apples are depleted they rely on other local apple growers to supplement their supply, thus contributing to the local community.
In the early years, cider was made for the family’s own consumption, until 1983, when the family decided to say no to cattle and distribute cider to the general public. Over the years they slowly expanded into a traditional cider house.
As a craft beer lover, the beer styles I have spent some recent time with are sours and saisons so when I discovered Spanish cider I realized I would be spending quality time with them as well. My favorite qualities, tart, acidic, dry, funky and earthy are typically found in Spanish sidra. The sidras are naturally fermented with no added sugar and presents wild characteristics.
My bottle of Isastegi Sagardo, Naturala Sidra poured yellow/straw and cloudy with no carbonation. I lack the finesse of pouring a cider from three feet away so my glass was not as fizzy as it could have been.
The nose was intense and incredibly inviting. Acetic, light cider vinegar followed by hay and light apple peel. The fist sip was just as rewarding, a melange of mild vinegar, musty, barnyard, light apple and pear. The sidra was still but I didn’t mind. The acidity balanced perfectly with the sharp tannins. The funky notes carried on forever and finished long and dry. I am thinking of opening a bottle for Easter Sunday.
Have you tried Spanish Sidra and have you tried it in Spain? Share your stories.
To hear more about the art of pouring Spanish cider, see my previous post. Pouring Sidra style – Spanish Cider.
This video is narrated in Spanish but presents the cider customs in Spain well enough that no translation is needed.