SOURCE AND SUBSTANCE
The making of fermented cider began earlier in Spain than in any other contemporary cider producing nation. Dating back to Celtic times it was recorded by the earliest Roman settlers. Spanish production is concentrated in the region known as Green Spain.
Spanish cider is unique in being fermented with only the natural yeast present in the apples, the orchards and the cidery. This and the long established regional cider apple varieties root the flavors in time and place giving Spanish ciders their wine-like terroir. Unlike French and English cider apple varieties no Spanish varieties have yet been cultivated in the U.S. The unique flavors of Spanish cider are not yet even vaguely echoed in any emerging domestic artisan ciders. Experienced domestic producers who recently tasted our Guzmán Riestra Sidra Brut Nature at the largest tasting in the country expressed complete surprise that a hard cider could achieve such intensity and complexity of flavor.
Running parallel to the coastline a mere ten to twenty miles to the south the snow-capped Picos de Europa mountain range creates a climactic wall between the arid central Spanish plateau and this verdant yet rugged, rainy jigsaw puzzle of estuarine and alpine valleys. Cider production is rooted in too moist a soil under too little sun for the luxury of vineyards. Apples and the production of cider are the fruit and nectar of deprivation from the riches of the neighboring Mediterranean Basin. As such cider and the food culture in which it is embedded could not be more quintessentially Spanish even while laying hidden behind mountains and stereotypes.
The overwhelming majority of Spanish ciders come from the Asturian and Basque regions of Green Spain. Asturian cider is called sidra and the Basques call theirs sagardoa. They are virtually identical in character being absolutely dry, still, relatively cloudy and with sediment. These characteristics are what aficionados find “earthy” and others may find just plain unappealing. Asturian bartenders traditionally pour Sidra (escanciar) from overhead to a glass held at the waist in order for the resulting aeration to release the full flavors, but the Basques don’t bother and most Asturians use simple aerating stoppers for this effect. Traditional sidra/sagardoa should be shaken in the bottle before opening to activate the natural carbonation before pouring.
Traditional sidras are bottled directly from the fermentation and maturation tanks without “post-production” manipulation such as filtration, second fermentation, artificial carbonation, or the addition of preservatives, sweeteners or unfermented juice. Since the alcohol level is limited by the sugar content of the original apples alone, sidra tops out at fermentation to full dryness at a fairly consistent 6-7% alcohol by volume.
Where Basque producers maintain this strict traditional style produced in small cideries aimed primarily at local consumption, Asturian producers moved into larger regional scale production in the early 1900’s adapting centuries-old local craft to the production of large quantities of artisanal ciders for national brand identity. This has become the solid platform in the 21st century for the launch of new style Asturian ciders aimed at an international market for artisanal cider.
Most of the new ciders fall into two categories: filtered, or Nueva Expresión, which are either still or lightly sparkling; and achampañada, often labeled as Brut, which is produced through second in-bottle or in-the-tank fermentation to achieve higher alcohol levels and full champagne style effervescence. Both categories meet all of the U.S. domestic expectations of fine ciders: clarity and refinement, but they all fall on the dry side of the spectrum. Conveniently this responds to an unfulfilled domestic demand for dry ciders with fuller flavor.
Ever experimenting, this new generation of Asturian producers has even introduced a spiritous and sweet dessert style cider by adapting the process of Canadian ice cider. Since apples never freeze on the branch in Asturias “Frost Cider” is made by freezing the freshly presssed juice to minus 20˚ C. The juice is then thawed gradually to extract a concentration of flavor with five times the sugar allowing fermentation to higher alcohol levels while arresting fermentation with ample residual sugars.
Ciders of Spain founder, James Asbel, has explored the orchards and llagares (cideries) of Asturias, examined production methods, sampled the apple varieties and ciders, and gotten to know leading producers to select our portfolio. The Ciders of Spain portfolio represents a commitment to give Spanish ciders the best chance in the U.S. market by presenting a range of styles and characteristics to appeal to a variety of consumers in the alcoholic beverage market.