The Asturias Cider Challenge

Lauren Thackray Puente, 11 January, 2018
Lauren Thackray Puente spent a recent holiday with relatives in Spain’s ‘cider country’, and came back with a challenge.

My husband was brought up in a tiny Asturian hamlet, high above the pretty town of Cangas de Onis, where a famous Roman bridge spans the River Sella, just a few kilometres south-east of the Picos de Europa National Park. I have paid many visits to the region over the years, but this time I was determined to find out more about the local cider culture, and wanted to set a challenge for my colleagues and friends back home.

Cider is a part of life in Asturias, and cider-appreciation is an art form in itself. Most towns and villages have cider-only bars, called sidrerías, and a bottle of cider in the famous “El Corchu” in Cangas will set you back little more than two euros – and this includes a plate of traditional Spanish tapas – a must if you’re planning to drink more than one bottle!

Traditionally, just one glass is served with each bottle, and not only is the cider shared, but the glass, too. (Apparently, this tradition has been handed down from the days when glass supplies were limited.) It is in the pouring, though, that the real expertise comes in: my husband and his friends were taught to pour cider from a young age, but they were only ever allowed to practice using bottles of water filled from a stream and large buckets used for feeding the animals. There’s a reason for this, as things can get messy…

You see, cider is poured from a great height – usually at arm’s length and with the glass held below waist height at about a 45-degree angle. This is so that the stream of cider will (hopefully) hit the inside of the glass at an angle, causing the cider to fizz… This is what makes it taste so good!

So here’s your challenge: take a flat-bottomed glass tumbler and one bottle of Asturian cider (‘still’ cider from closer to home – or even a bottle of water to begin with – will do), hold the glass at an angle below your waist, extend your arm with the bottle and begin to pour…

Unlike some of the more nonchalant escanciadores (cider waiters) you might find in Asturias, you should keep your eye on the glass at all times – but this is easier said than done! Pour only a shot’s worth of cider (around a fifth of a glass), then pass it to a friend to drink straight away. (Or drink it yourself if you’re feeling thirsty!). Now here’s another tricky bit: you should leave a small amount of cider in the bottom of the glass – not easy for those of us accustomed to finishing our drinks to get full value for money! This should then be swirled around and thrown on the floor. This effectively ‘cleans’ the glass for the next person (cider-drinking in Asturias is very much a group activity), and some bars have a floor carpeted in sawdust for this very purpose.

Of course, if you find that the art of pouring cider is too tricky to master (and you’d rather just drink the stuff), then don’t worry. When in Asturias, there are always experienced waiters on hand to pour and refill your glass, or – like everything these days – there’s even a way to cheat. At the wonderful Los Piratas del Sablón restaurant in Llanes, I came across a ‘cider pouring machine’: these ingenious devices were positioned on every table, meaning that we could pour, drink and appreciate the local cider to our hearts’ content.

So why not have a go at our Asturias Cider Challenge and let us know how you get on? You can even share your photos and videos with us, using the hashtag #AsturiasCiderChallenge.

But remember, as a local waiter said to me: “If you really want to learn how to do it, you have to come to Asturias!”

Further information

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 Spain >
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