Spanish cider

by Ainhoa Barrio - 13 January 2014

spanish-ciderSpanish cider is a fermented alcoholic drink usually made from apples with an average alcohol content that ranges from 3% to 8% vol.

In Spain it is called sidra and like the word cider, it derives from Latin and means aromatic drink. In the Basque country, cider is known as sagardo in the local language.

Many varieties of apples can be used to make Spanish cider, but it is important to have a mixture of sweet apples, so the sugar ferments into alcohol; acidic apples to maintain its natural pale colour; and bitter apples that provide the tannin.

In the process of cider making, the apples are collected just before they are ripe. Traditionally, in Asturias and the Basque country, the apples were grinded using great wooden hammers. Alternatively, the apples could be milled in heavy round stone mills; the resulting pulp is then pressed to extract the juice.

The drink will be left to ferment in a wooden barrel, uncorked, so that the froth with impurities will exit the barrel through the hole in the top. For the second fermentation, the barrel is corked and left from 45 days to 3 months, depending on how sweet they want to make it. The last fermentation will take place once the prodcut has been bottled, when it will be left to rest for anything from 3 to 15 months.

In Spain, the main producers of Sidra are in the northern regions: Asturias, Basque Country, Navarra, Cantabria y Castilla y Leon. Unlike the cider drank in most parts of the world, Spanish cider is natural - which means it is still - with very little CO2, making it significantly less gassy than other European versions. Only in Villaviciosa, in Asturias, do they produce both still and sparkling varieties. In 2002, Asturias won recognition as a Protected Denomination of Origin for the sidra produced in that region.

To serve Spanish cider it is customary to 'oxygenate' or 'escanciar', as it is known in Spanish, as the drink is poured into the glass. Traditionally, the bottle is held well above the head and the sidra poured into a wide flat glass, held at the bottom with the other hand.

In Asturias and the Basque country, it is common to find Sidrerias; restaurants that serve generous and rich local dishes to be accompanied with the drink. In these restaurants, cider is served directly from the barrel and not from a bottle, but the action of escanciar is still a must and creates some fun moments amongst family and friends. In sidrerias, one of the famous starters is chorizo a la sidra; the combination of the rich chorizo flavours and the acidity of the sidra - slow cooked on a clay pot - is usually something to be remembered.

chorizo-a-la-sidra

Popular local varieties are Trabanco and Isastegi; both still ciders with an intense acidity that make them remarkably drinkable and refreshing. Sarastora is another Basque cider, slightly more robust that Isastegi, it has fruity flavours and a strong character. If you come across this version on your trip to Spain, you should not miss the opportunity to try it.

For a Spanish version of sparkling cider, try Asturias's Poma Aurea, where the juice is extracted using an old wooden press and they use the champagne method of disgorging the bottle during fermentation. This sidra is tart and has strong mineral flavours.

The most famous brands of Spanish cider for export are the sparkling El Gaitero and El Mayador, but if you are in the country you should not miss the chance to try the many local varieties on offer.

Buy Spanish Cider here

Ainhoa Barrio is a Spanish food, drink and culture writer who lives in Barcelona.

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