The 'Art' of Asturian Cider

Steve Jack, 11 January, 2018
Steve Jack plunges into the traditional world of cider production in ‘Green Spain’, and learns how to pour, drink and appreciate this refreshing Asturian tipple.

“How on earth can cider be an ‘art’ form?”, I hear you cry. Well, let me explain…

It was in the immensely pretty coastal village of Cudillero (think brightly painted houses clustered around a tiny harbour at the foot of wondrously green cliffs) that I first encountered authentic Asturian cider culture. And although I don’t remember the exact location of the sidrería, it must have been somewhere in the tiny maze of streets not far from the sea, and it made a lasting impression.

After all, I didn’t know, by that point, that real cider belonged in Spain. I knew of the scrumpies of south-west England, of course, and was even aware that the lush orchards of Normandy were capable of producing some decent cider as well as Calvados. But down here on the Iberian Peninsula? Really?

But there I was, outside a little bar in the sunshine, fresh from a walk down from the hills, and finding myself in need of refreshment. And I observed the most curious ritual taking place just a few metres away: an animated, close-knit circle of blokes (a ‘huddle’ was the only way to describe them) was sharing around a few green bottles and just one glass. Puzzled and intrigued, I decided to find out more…

What I discovered was that, for the people of Asturias, cider-drinking is part of their very culture; it is in their DNA. This, after all, is a drink whose importance by far outweighs that of beer or wine in this corner of Spain. And like all decent traditions, this one goes back a long way: ancient documents prove that the locals were quaffing sidra here as long ago as the 8th century. Today, the Asturians produce 80% of Spanish cider – anything up to 45 million litres a year, depending on the harvest. And they don’t let much of it get away, either: around 95% of the annual production is consumed by Asturians themselves, and the cider-drinking scene appears to be going from strength to strength.

But back to that sidrería in Cudillero. For it is here, in the cider bars themselves, that the appreciation of this honey-coloured liquid is elevated to an art form. While the drink itself (around 6% ABV, or similar to a strong beer) is pretty ‘still’, it tastes much better when oxygenated. So you will often see a skilful escanciador (a cider-pouring waiter or barman) artfully decanting the drink, with the bottle at full stretch above his head and the glass down below waist level, in order to impart a little fizz.

But don’t worry: there’s no expectation that you should be able to do this yourself. (Of course, you can try, but it’s a skill that is a lot trickier than it looks!) No, it’s a chance for the bar staff to demonstrate their skills, honed over many years (and generations). They seem to barely even look at the glass or bottle as they pour, and are as likely to be chatting to a friend or regular customer over their shoulder as concentrating on what they’re doing. (Take a look at this short video to see an escanciador in action.)

As well as the apparent nonchalance of the display, the type of glass is also significant. Short and stubby in appearance, a wide, flat-bottomed variety seems to work best, and is again designed to maximise the cider’s fizz when poured from on high. Only a small amount (about one-fifth of a glass) is poured each time, with the drinker savouring the shot (culete or culín) in one go, before the fizz has had a chance to subside.

When drinking with friends, as I witnessed back at that bar, it is traditional to not only pour the cider for yourselves, but also to use just one glass. Each person leaves a little cider in the bottom before throwing it out onto the floor to ‘clean’ the glass for the next person to drink. This is why you will often notice a covering of sawdust on the floor of the most traditional sidrerías, and why the ritual can often appear to be – as it did to me – a kind of communal revelry which is more akin to a group hug than a mere meeting of friends.

So, the best way to appreciate Asturian cider for yourself is to get stuck in: head over to northern Spain, get along to a traditional sidrería… and start drinking.

Related holidays

Slow Train through Asturias
Stay in wonderful coastal villages and explore the Asturian capital of Oviedo on our wonderful journey through northern Spain, on the iconic narrow-gauge FEVE railway.
More about our journeys by rail in Asturias >
Related articles
Last fetch time is : 6/24/2024 2:13:56 PM

currency iplookup:

cookie value: null

querystring value: null