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Getting to know Spanish cider

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We’ve been a bit obsessed with Spanish beer as of late, but nothing’s captivated us like sidra. Spain’s version of hard cider, sidra’s a far cry from caramel-sweet or spiced (or even hopped!) American ciders; quite unlike the dry, vinous English ciders; and just barely similar to France’s rustic Champagnelike ciders.

Instead, sidra has a profile all its own, and what hits you first is the serious vinegary sourness. Actually, it hits you second and third, too. And it’s not bad—but if you haven’t already latched on to sour beers, a sour cider will throw you for a loop. But when you train your tongue to get past the megatartness, you’ll discover fantastically bucolic hay, apple, wet must, wood and flowers, and breezy citrus that glues the nuances to the sourness. The flavors themselves are provincial, but married in a perky swallow, the drink’s refined.

Aside from being the most dramatic cider in terms of flavor, it also has the most pomp when it comes to pouring. Order at a sideria in Spain, and you’ll usually get a 750mL bottle for your table. When you want a glass, your waiter will properly “throw” the cider—that is, quite fancifully and very impressively pour the cider quickly from high above his head. As the cider cascades and hits the vessel, it becomes aerated and invigorated. The Spanish take sidra throwing quite seriously; read up on how it’s done here, and if you really enjoy mopping sticky cider off your floor, give it a go.

You don’t let a glass of cider linger on the table; because cider oxidizes quickly, and since your waiter has gone to the great trouble to prepare it just so, you drink it up quick. If there’s sediment at the bottom of your glass, it won’t kill you to drink it, but many siderias have drains in the floor for dumping it out.

Unfortunately, the Spanish sideria hasn’t been replicated in America (though American cider bars are popping up in the Northwest), but Spanish ciders are making their way across the Atlantic, and at least one U.S. cidermaker brews a Spanish-style nod to sidra. Here, three that show the style’s range:

Istastegi Natural Cider: If you ever want to really cement in your mind what “cellar must” tastes like, open a bottle of this. Wet, dank must bleeds through the smell and taste; on the tongue, it’s joined by green apple up front, then meaty, smoky pork in the back.

Trabanco Cosecha Propia: Quite flat on the tongue, this is an easygoing sidra—well, as easygoing as sidras can get. Green apple drives the flavor; a sweet-tart sensation makes the thin swallow go down quick.

Virtue Sidra de Nava: Goose Island alum Greg Hall brews this exponentially tart American homage to sidra; it’s loaded with lemon notes, but keep sipping to find berry and hay. The swallow’s incredibly effervescent, so it feels fuller than the others.

 

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