The making and drinking of cider is traditional in several areas of northern Spain, mainly the Principality of Asturias and the Basque Country. Cider has been popular in the Basque Country for centuries. Whilst Txacoli and Rioja wines became more popular in Vizcaya, Alava and Navarra during the 19th century, there is still a strong cider culture in Gipuzkoa. From the 1980s, government and gastronomic associations have worked to revive this culture in all Basque regions. Known as sagardoa (IPA: /s̺a'gaɾdoa/), it is drunk either bottled or in a cider house (called a sagardotegi), where it is poured from barrels. Most of "sagardotegis" are in the north of Gipuzkoa (Astigarraga, Hernani, Urnieta and Usurbil), but they can be found everywhere in Guipuzcoa, the north-west of Navarre and the Northern Basque County. Cider tasting events are popular in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, where stalls are set up on the street selling the drink from several producers at cheap prices and served until stock runs out
In Basque Country, Samplin Cider ann an Ancient Ritual
No one really tells you what to do when you first arrive at a sagardotegi, or traditional Basque cider house, especially if you don’t speak Basque. You’re simply given a glass, led to one of the long wooden tables in a vast room, and immediately served a plate of chorizo, followed by a cod omelet. It’s left up to you to figure out how to get a drink.
In a sagardotegi in a big stone barn on the outskirts of town, we learned that when a guy with a bucket yells “txotx!” (pronounced “CHOACH”) that means he’s about to open the tap on one of dozens of huge 13,000-liter barrels, shooting out a thin stream of cider. You’re supposed to stand up from your meal, get in line, and hold your glass at just the right angle to catch a few fingers of cider from that hissing stream. You drink the small amount in your glass and then follow the cidermaker to the next barrel.
In late January, Astigarraga was still relatively mellow. But as txotx season rolls on, more than 15,000 cider enthusiasts can crowd into the town’s cider houses each weekend. Txotx season follows the apple harvest of September and October, then fermentation of the cider in early winter. In fact, in late January, some of the barrels might not be fully finished fermenting. “The cider in the barrel is still evolving,” Igór said. “If you come back in two months and taste the same barrel, it will have evolved.” In Basque Country, most cider is made by spontaneous fermentation and no added commercial yeast, similar to natural winemaking. Once the season ends in April, whatever is left in the barrel is bottled.