…than anyone else has explained for you

The standout feature of Sidra and Sagardo, traditional Asturian and Basque ciders, is that they are from the oldest cider region that has continuously produced cider since ancient times, and it has maintained its ancient methods for centuries as the dominant mode, defining for its community, even today, what cider is. There is no such continuity of an ancient style in any other region of the world, largely because those regions stopped consuming cider as a community-wide mainstay and revived the practice more recently. But in Northern Spain, traditional cider has dominated beverage consumption for centuries. In Asturias traditional natural cider still represents 90% of cider sales and locals are slow to adopt the newer, even international competition winning, styles that have allowed us to put together a truly diverse international style portfolio from one region.

When you make cider the way it must have been done in pre-technological times, without transporting processed juice around, without injecting various laboratory generated agents such as stabilizers, preservatives, flocculants, and most notably, cultured yeasts offered by pharmaceutical labs, you can’t micro-manage outcomes to produce the endless, reliable flow of a consistent product that the modern industrial food and beverage industry has induced several generations now to accept for the benefit of the manufacturer’s bottom line. Consistency is in the hands of the skilled cider maker who must spend weeks to months developing a deep sensory map of the vats in their bodega to blend and release bottles that satisfy their goals. It is not uncommon for a single cider maker to set several blending targets for the preferences of different bars that represent the bulk of their sales. And, in Asturias, it’s the bars, and sidrerías, cider bars, where most cider is consumed. Drinking sidra is social drinking, and it is typical to see spent bottles line up along the bar by a small group of friends going round for round. And yet, no one leaves staggering, due in part to the absorptive effect of the tapas consumed with each round, the low abv, 6-7%, and the wake-up brashness of the quaff. This is not the brooding glass of brown liquid you stare into in your dark corner of the pub trying to forget your troubles.

So, what do you get instead? An earthy (some say “funky”) somewhat sour, carbonic, hazy gold to straw-colored drink that you chug in 3 oz. pours that have been aerated and re-carbonated from seemingly still when poured from an arms-length above the shoulder (escanciar) crashing into the side of a tilted wide-mouth glass held at the waist.

Your first visual experience in the glass is called the sidra’s “espalme“, which means that it should “fluff-up” in the glass like a short head of beer, for just a few seconds, and then settle-down into a milky straw-gold pool that will last in that state (aguante) just long enough to admire, briefly, before immediate quaffing in one-go of about three swallows, washed over the entire mouth: roof and tongue. Those silly porrones, spouted beakers that have become a fad of their own in the US, deny that pleasure by directing a narrow, lifeless stream right down the gullet. Just say “no” when offered.

After draining the glass, you will note that a light, film of bubbles slides slowly down its sides. This is called “pega“. Espalme, Aguante and Pega are definitive visual characteristics of true sidra, Prove me wrong. Keep doing that increasingly fashionable “long-pour” on other ciders, wine, alco-pop, and all manner of other uncooperative liquids. All you will get is a cute Instagram or Tik Tok post.

What you won’t get, though, is the amazing mouthfeel of a liquid infused with tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide released from solution by inverting and vigorously shaking the unopened bottle and then pouring it long. Finer than even Champagne bubbles, and evenly diffused rather than rising vigorously from the bottom of a flute, the character is best described like the aerated froth immediately below a waterfall. The mouthfeel is more creamy than spikey.

The airy-ness of this cider diffuses the bracing acidic and somewhat acetic initial flavors, softening their attack and helping more subtle aromas rise into the nose from fresh, tart apple to grassy, floral, or tropical fruit…and “barnyard”, the aromatic signature of the malolactic fermentation of a wild, natural yeast cider its famous “funkiness”. I emphasize “funk” because Americans seem to get that, and I kind of mumble over “barnyard” in presentations, but for me there is nothing but charm in scents reminiscent of the pastoral environment where my cider makers work their magic. In fact, I think the greatest challenge introducing natural sidra to the American drinker has been that it flies in the face of de-natured, sensibilities inculcated by the hegemony of technology (and represents a threat to an industry that depends on complacent acceptance of its sterile, predictable, and rapid output.) 

And that’s what makes this style of cider, whether it is made with the unique varieties of cider apples grown along the northern coast and up into the snow- capped mountains of North Atlantic Spain, or heirlooms resurgent in North American apple country, a perfect model for the home cider maker. You can bet this was the way cider was in colonial times when more cider was drunk than water. 

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