On Throwing Yeasty Cider From On High In The Basque Region Of Spain

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by Shaun Layton | Cider, or “Sidra” in Spanish, has always had a bit of a personality issue here on the west coast. With grad party crushers like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Grower’s Peach or Pear having largely defined the drink in the minds of a majority of British Columbians for a couple of generations now, it’s no wonder that the vast and varied world of the fermented apple never accrued much in the way of a dedicated local following.

Thankfully, cider has seen a 180 degree turn in recent years. There are now many great craft ciders on the market, among them locals like Left Field, Sea Cider, and Merridale. In Seattle, there are now whole bars dedicated to the straw hued nectar. Capitol Cider, for example, boasts over 20 rotating taps! How do you like them apples? Considering the quality of the fruit in the Pacific Northwest, cider is not a flash in the pan. Cider is here to stay, and there’s more on the way.

It’s a different show entirely across the Atlantic in the Basque region. I recently spent time in the French and Spanish part of this stunning mecca of pintxos, surf, and #NoFilter scenery. It’s a fascinating area; the border between the two countries is only visible only on maps, and you’d swear you were in neither, as the red, white, and green Basque flag ripples in the wind on most flagpoles.

Though most famous for its food towns like San Sebastien (#2 in the world for Michelin stars per capita), Basque Spain also produces great wine and cider, the latter being very different, even from the quality craft ones we see today. In the late 11th century, when the climate for grape growing wasn’t favourable, farmers turned to apples, and naturally, sidra. What makes the Spanish style different is its method of fermentation. No sugars are added to the wild yeast. The result, after resting in ancient oak barrels, is a non-sparkling, yeasty, acidic cocktail that is sometimes even musty. If you’re fond Belgian sour beers and such may want to take these for a spin. But before doing so, if you haven’t been to Spain, and haven’t seen the barman “throw” cider, check this out…

All the barmen in Spain have their own style, but the result is the same: pouring from raising hand to glass (with a meter in between) aerates and wakes up the sleeping beauties. If you’re doing this yourself, be sure to use a thin glass, and only pour a little at a time. Also, this will mellow the acidity, making it the perfect pairing for pintxos, grilled meats, anything pickled, and so on.

After a trip to Spain a few years back, Vancouverite Kelly Chomat returned home with a new found obsession with everything Basque. Along with her partners, they soon created Txotx Basque Imports Inc., a Vancouver-based import company dedicated to introducing us to Basque products. Consequently, there are now over a half dozen Basque sidras, many white wines, and food products like mussels in escabeche, Cantabrian anchovies, and my beloved Piment d’Espelette.

As for the ciders, my favourite is Mendiola. It’s the perfect balance of dry and tart, exploding with ripe, bright, crisp apples. Pair it with a plate of “gildas”, the staple San Sebastien pinxto that sees a toothpick draped with a Cantabrian anchovy, pickled Guindilla peppers, and Manzanilla olives.

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