When in Northern Spain, You Must Try the Traditional Drink, Sidra

Bottle of sidra in Spain
 Fernando Trabanco Fotografía/Getty Images

Cider--or what we now call "hard cider" in reference to fermented apple juice--was the American drink of choice among the first colonists from England, but cider was supplanted by beer as German immigrants arrived and improved the beer brewing techniques and production.

A Short History of Cider or Sidra

Sidra in Spain is primarily from the Asturias and Basque regions of northern Spain and is produced primarily from the indigenous crabapple, with sweeter varieties of apple used to balance the final result. In the time of pilgrimage, the 12th century or so, sidra was more popular than wine.

While the first ciders were probably being produced by ancient Egyptian and Byzantine Civilizations--Pliny mentions apple wine as the typical drink of the Estrabon region; cider production in Spain was probably modest and personal until 1629 when apple trees from America were introduced into Spain and production increased. The production took a hit after the Spanish Civil War when production and consumption were prohibited by Franco and apple orchards were abandoned as people looked for industrial work.

Production boomed again in the eighties, and today you can drink natural cider directly from the "kupelas" (big barrels, usually of chestnut) between January and April or May when the cider is bottled. In summer, just look for a sign that says "Sideria" and plunk yourself down at a table and order a sidra. How it'll all work is detailed below.

In Spain, the production of natural "hard" ciders takes place mostly in the north: Asturias, Galicia and Basque country. The climate here is ideal for apple growing; mild, wet summers and mild winters.

How to Drink Sidra (Cider)

  • You must drink the whole bottle at one sitting. Cider oxidizes quickly and becomes flat.
  • The ideal temperature is between 10-14 degrees centigrade, cool but not cold.
  • A "gulp" or a small amount of cider should be poured into a narrow glass from a height of around 30 cm or three feet. This aerates the cider, enhancing the bouquet and the natural carbonation, and is called "throwing" the Cider, which produces the gas Spaniards call "estrella" (star). 
  • This should be consumed at once.
  • If there are dregs, you can consume them or dump them out on the floor (some siderias have special drains for this--that's why a sideria is separate from the bar in most establishments offering both.)

In La Sideria (Cider Bar)

  • You order a cider, which usually comes in a 750 ml bottle like a bottle of wine.
  • The waiter will open the bottle, then probably go to a special "pouring station" where he will pour a glass and bring it to you.
  • You will repeat this (sometimes having to nod at the glass when you want another) until you've had enough or the bottle is down to the dregs.
  • Some places will just set a bucket at the side of your table without offering further assistance beyond uncorking the cider. You're on your own with the pour if this happens.
  • This experience will set you back a couple of Euros.
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