Sidra: Basque Natural Cider (Sagardoa)
We all know what cider is. The summer time, sunshine and alcoholic beverages. The fizzy, sweet and tart beverage that packs a punch. The adult apple juice, if you will. So, if we all know what apple juice is then why are we here? Well, Basque sidra is not your average cider. Here's why.
Sidra is a traditional Basque beverage that is unique to the region. It has become something distinct unto its own, much like the Basque language. You can still get a sparkling cider if you desire however what we are talking about here is called Basque natural cider.
Basque sidra is naturally fermented and follows a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The apples are selected from the desired trees during the harvest season of September-October. They are then cleaned before being put into a press to get as much juice as possible out of each apple. The juice that is then put in cupolas (barrels) and stored until the end of January and the beginning of Txotx.
Basque natural sirda tastes much different than the cider common in North America. North American cider is carbonated and usually very sweet. This is not the case with Basque natural sidra.
This Basque beverage is not carbonated. In fact to create bubbles in the beverage you must pour the beverage from an arms length. Sidra has a drier flavour to it than the overly sweet North American ciders. It has a tart, acidic flavouring that is very tantalizing.
Sidra is to be enjoyed in broad thin-glassed glasses. It is poured either from a bottle or directly from the cask. The goal is to pour the cider into your glass at an angle. The reasoning is to create some foam in the glass that enhances the flavour. In a quality cidre the foam will dissipate quickly.
Pouring cider is best done from as far a distance as possible. The further one pours the cider from the glass the better it tastes. The greater the distance the more the droplets will split and the better your beverage will be. You want to fill the glass no more than a third. Basque cider tastes at its best when it is served in small quantities and consumed in a short amount of time. The recommendation is that you pour no more than three fingers and drink it immediately. Sidra is meant to be enjoyed often but in small amounts.
Txotx is a festival that celebrates the sidra and Basque culture. It originated from private testing for wholesale buyers. Now the public is involved in this celebrated tradition. Before the sidra is bottled, txotx season allows people the opportunity to drink from the cask. A small hole in the cask allows the sidra to shoot out of the cask to be caught by the next eager patron. Before the glass is filled a small stick is replaced to plug the hole. This stick in Basque is called a "txotx."
Cideries are a popular place for locals and tourists alike to gather. They are usually in the hillside and out of the cities. You can get to some of them within a ten minute drive from Bilbao and San Sebastian. When at a cidery it is customary to eat a traditional meal as well as sample the different ciders. Usually, when you order from the menu you can drink as much cider as you desire. Drink in little portions but often.
We will be doing a deep dive into Cideries and their customs in a future article.
There are two different types of certifications that can be found on Basque natural sidra. The two certifications are titled Gorenak and Euskal Sagardoa. The latter was created in 2017 to bring attention to the quality and standards of the industry. Euskal Sagardoa translates to Basque Cider.
The Gorenak label designates that a cider has been made in the Basque region. It also means that the apples that were used in the making of the cider are from outside the Basque region. The Euskal Sagradoa label designates that a cider is of high quality like that of the Gorenak label. It also certifies that the apples used in the production of the cider are native to the Basque. If the bottle of sidra has the Euskal Saradoa certification it is a natural cider that is not carbonated, made in Basque Country with Basque grown apples.
The Euskal Sagardoa label is red and white and at the top of the bottle near the cork. It has a logo of an apple, which is white, on the red backdrop. There are four red lines on the bottom right side of the apple. The label also boldly has written Euskal Sagardoa on it as well as Sidra natural del Pais Vasco. The Spanish wording is below in a smaller non-bold font.
Sidra is a quintessential of the Basque way of life. It's history goes back at least as far as the time of the Romans. You can literally see the history at some of the cideries where the floors have grooves from generations of txotx celebrations. Thousands of liters of ciders splashed onto the floors from the long distance pouring. Sidra is a must try beverage. You'll love the experience. Just remember to drink a little of it, but often.
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