La Cocina Espanol: A Brief History Of Sidra
Although my year+ of working at a pub taught me to appreciate beer in ways no college-kid kegger could, it's still not the first thing I reach for at a bar. I'm not quite the girly-girl smackin' on her Smirnoff Raspberry or downing appletinis (unless I'm at a Scrubs theme party), but I might lean towards a white wine if it's a nicer place or maybe a Sam Summer if we're in Boston.
So I was intrigued when we got to Basque country and Dave started talking about sidra, a hard cider native to the region. I like American hard cider (I favor Original Sin), but I was completely blown away by sidra and could have happily smuggled bottles and bottles of the stuff through customs had I not been scared by Rebecca's story of her own attempts to transport beer (smashed bottles, alcoholic luggage, angry fellow passengers). It was less sweet than American hard cider, but tangier, fresher, and more bitingly alcoholic--I could have had it breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and probably would have, too, as the siderias where it's served were open all day.
My love for sidra is so profound that I was not even terribly embarassed by my and Dave's sidra faux pas the first time we drank it. We had arrived in San Sebastian, a coastal town not far from Bilboa, and exhausted and hungry, asked the hotel to direct us to the closest bar. Muching on pinchos (sandwiches), we asked the bartender for a bottle of sidra. He obligingly got one from the fridge, uncorked it, and stuffed a small green spout in the mouth. Dave immediately removed the spout, poured our drinks, and we clinked glasses and enjoyed. It tasted good--refreshingly appley if a little flat--and we finished the bottle, paid our check, and headed back to the hotel, not even questioning what that little spout was for.
Days later, we discovered our error: sidra, as enjoyed in Basque country, is poured into a glass held about 3 feet away from the bottle. Once it splashes in the glass (if you're good enough to actually aim it into the glass), it releases tiny bubbles that churn the cider, unleashing a flood of rich, unique taste. The difference between our quietly poured glasses and the fizzing, splashing, correctly-poured sidra was like the difference between flat Coke and regular--no comparison, it was just so much better. The bubbling added a rich texture and complexity of flavor, allowing the odor of fresh apples to better reach your nose. While sidra on its own is pretty good, fizzy, bubbly, messy sidra is utterly amazing.
Like any good regional drink, the amount of care and thought put into crafting, pouring, and enjoying sidra was amazing. In Asturias, we came across strange contraptions with shelves and hoses mounted to the walls of bars. Asking for a glass of sidra, we saw the thing in action: a machine designed to fizz up the drink and drop it into the glass without making a giant mess. Because the truth is, sidra is messy to drink. The precision needed to pour it into a glass is ridiculous (for days I thought it couldn't be that hard, until Dave allowed me to try it a few times. About three drops landed in the glass), and even pros concede a few splashes will hit the floor. If it wasn't so delicious, I would have even wondered whether the pour from above thing was just a ruse made up by enterprising siderias that wanted to sell more bottles--afterall, you lose at least a glass of the stuff through pouring.
Because sidra is made only in special farm/restaurants called sagardotegi, it's not sold in the U.S. or even in most parts of Spain. Bottled, it can last about a year, but since it must stay cool, it's almost exclusively drunk in northern Spain (some Basque restuarants will serve sidra, though, like one we found in Tarragona). Still, if you do make it up to the northern regions of Spain, sidra will almost certainly be the most popular drink available, bubbling and fizzing its way into your heart.
Posted by Kendall Kulper Toniatti at 12:00 AM