Asturias Cider Trip Review

ASTURIAN CIDER BARS
HOW TO POUR AN ASTURIAN CIDER
ASTURIAN CIDER FARMS
ASTURIAN CIDER MAKING PROCESS
III INTERNATIONAL HALL OF GALA CIDER JUDGING
III INTERNATIONAL HALL OF GALA CIDER DINNER/PRESENTATION
III INTERNATIONAL HALL OF GALA CIDER FAYRE
ASTURIAN CIDER CULTURE
ASTURIAN CIDER FACTS/TRADITIONS
OVERALL OPINION OF ASTURIAN CIDER

Whilst on my last trip to Frankfurt, Germany, I was speaking to Edu (Cider Guerrilla) about cider from around the world and he mentioned that I really should try and see his homeland, Asturias, as it had a wonderful and very passionate cider scene. At the time I was really intrigued about it, especially as I remember at the International Craft Cider Festival in 2011 about one of the guys there having a very different cider pouring technique. Time went by and the conversation had completely left my mind.

Suddenly, a few months later, and out of the blue I get an invite from Edu saying that La Sidra magazine/website wanted me to come visit their III International Hall of Gala Cider event and let them show me about the Asturian cider scene and how things are done over there. To top it all off they also wanted me to help judge their cider event and they were inviting me to the III International Hall of Gala Ciders Dinner, which was being cooked for by a 2 star Michelin chef. At this point I was thinking to myself “What’s the catch?”. I pondered over it and then just told myself to just go for it. I then gladly accepted the invite, booked my flight and set off to the airport in pursuit of cider on 17th October!

I was met at the airport by Donato (the researcher for the magazine) and whisked off to a hotel in Gijon (Xixon – They don’t use a J in Asturian). The doubts were still a little in my head at this point and kept thinking I was going to be taken somewhere to be mugged etc. Thankfully this was not the case and I was taken to a hotel and then off to a traditional Asturian cider bar for a drink.

ASTURIAN CIDER BARSAsturian Cider Bar

The first thing I noticed about the bar was it looked like there was a urinal at the front of the bar and secondly the amount of meat/food there was behind the bar. Back in the UK we have neither of these and I felt a little puzzled. We then ordered a bottle of cider and a plate of cheese with bread and the barman then poured the drink in a particular way (which I will cover later). I was instructed to take a large gulp of the cider and throw away a tiny bit into what I initially thought was a urinal. It turns out it’s just for that purpose! Things were slowly clicking into place and I was beginning to understand the culture. One other thing to note at this stage is that you can only order the cider by the bottle. If you ask for it by the glass you will get some funny looks! The only downside I found was none of the late night bars server any cider, which seemed mainly due to how busy they get and the limited space to pour it the traditional way.

HOW TO POUR AN ASTURIAN CIDER

Asturian Cider PouringWith an Asturian cider you can’t just pour a glass straight from the bottle in a normal UK fashion. Oh no, that is completely frowned upon! If you want to pour an Asturian cider correctly, then you would hold the bottle in one hand and a glass (a very thin one at that too!) in the other to begin with. You would then raise the bottle above your head and forward slightly and the glass around the thigh level in virtually a direct line below the bottle, whilst making sure to miss your head for example! The glass would be tilted nearly horizontally before you tilt the bottle just over horizontal to pour the cider. The art is to get the cider to go directly into the glass without even looking at the glass. I can’t say I was that good when I attempted this in the restaurant! Thankfully they usually have buckets or something similar to catch any spillage! The technique with the stainless steel barrel is similar, except the trajectory is slightly different. Amazingly I forgot to actually take a picture of one being poured from a bottle. I guess I was too eager to try it than to take pictures! Though there is a picture about somewhere of me attempting it. Oh god I wasn’t very good at it!

ASTURIAN CIDER FARMS

Later that afternoon/evening I met up with other members of the jury and we went out to a cider farm (the first of 5 we went to over 3 days!) and had a tour of the cider farm, which in a large percentage of them had laid on Asturian food for the group too. The cider farms in general were very similar to the ones back home, though their average one seems a lot bigger than our average artisan cider producer! One big striking difference though is the cider press. They are all absolutely huge, conical in shape for the bit that does the pressing, and big enough for a man to get in them! One other thing they have made sure of is the stainless steel tanks they use have a pressure valve on them so they can even pour cider the traditional way from them. There seriously is only 1 way they pour a cider over there!

In general they get around about 70% juice yield on their pressing and all have to be 100% juice producers. There’s none of this adding water, sugar or any form of chemicals. It’s 100% juice or nothing. Plus they have too much pride to do anything but the traditional and proper way. I really started to admire them more once I heard that.

ASTURIAN CIDER MAKING PROCESS

Over the course of the 3 days I was there, things slowly came together piece-by-piece and I came to the conclusion the average Asturian producer makes cider in the following way:

* Apples get picked either by themselves, by machine or they buy in
* Apples are washed
* Apple stalks are removed
* Bad bits from the apples are cut away
* Apples are washed again (some big producers don’t do this step)
* Apples are crushed
* Apples are pressed in a conical press for 1 day
* A man gets inside the press and turns over the pomace thoroughly with a spade and then the apples are pressed again.
* Juice is then taken to temperature controlled tanks or wooden barrels and left to ferment/mature.
* Cider is either left in the tanks/barrels to drink directly and/or it is bottled.

All in all the general process is very similar to ours, though I never really did get why they washed the apples twice, removed stalks and cut out the bad bits. It seems a bit of a wasted effort to me, but they are adamant it has to be done and it improves the taste of the cider.

Asturian Apples Asturian Cider Milling
Asturian apples about to be washed Asturian apples being milled
Asturian Cider Press Apple juice flowing
Asturian cider press being filled Apple juice flowing from the press
Man turning over pomace Asturian Cider Barrels
Pomace being turned over A typical Asturian cider barrel


III INTERNATIONAL HALL OF GALA CIDER JUDGING

Cider Judging TablesAfter what was a fairly relaxed introduction into the Asturian cider culture, the next day came the big event – The cider judging! I started the day as normal and expecting to do the judging in the afternoon. However, this was not the case. At around 9-10am we were whisked off to a local cider farm, where waiting for us was a line of tables with breadsticks and glasses on. It then clicked that we were actually doing the judging there and then and we had no idea how many ciders there would be! It was a good job I had brushed my teeth a good couple of hours before or it could have ended up horribly wrong!Cider Judging Table

This was the first time I’ve had this formal a judging before. Usually for me it has been around a roundtable and people would discuss things before scoring on a personal level. This felt a little more isolated, which in turn was similar in ways to how I review at home. The scoring was based on 3 sections, with a score out of 10 being given for visuals, aroma and taste (30 points in total). There was very little guidance given about what visually is a good cider for them, so we all had to really make our own interpretation of things. In the end we ended up judging 24 different ciders/perries/liqueurs and we all felt a little merry by the end! Scores were then averaged, collected and wrote down. My only improvement I personally would do to improve the judging for future years is to weight certain categories a bit more. E.g I think the taste should have a bigger factor on the final score than say the visuals. I think if I was doing the scoring I’d do the Visuals out of 10, aroma out of 15 and taste out of 20. Though it’s not my competition and that’s for them to decide if they want to continue the current format 🙂

Asturian FoodAfter the judging we were fed literally an endless supply of food. I’m a big eater myself and even I was thinking that surely this was going to be the last plate after around 20 plates had come out! They sure do know how to put on a feast! We then also drank any cider that had not been drunk at the judging and had a good siesta back at the hotel! Oh god how that was needed!

III INTERNATIONAL HALL OF GALA CIDER DINNER/PRESENTATION

Awards Dinner TableIt was now time for the most prestigious part of the trip – The awards presentation and dinner! This was to be cooked for us by 2* Michelin chef, Nacho Manzano, and to be paired with an eyewatering 21 ciders! I’ve seen posh restaurants do wine-flights with a several course meal before, but never one that had around 2-3 ciders per each course! It sounded crazy but so amazing at the same time! This dinner was attended by the mayor, the local press, cider producers and so many more in the cider industry. To the people of Asturias, this evening was a HUGE event! All it needed was TV cameras an audience and it would have felt like one of those showbiz award shows you get on TV! This year there was 8 different categories of awards and they were as follows (with the eventual winner noted next to it):

Asturian Cider Awards* Best New Expression Cider: Españar – El Gobernador Cider Press.
* Best demi-sweet Sparkling Ciders: El Gaitero Extra – El Gaitero Cider Press.
* Best Brut Cider: Brut Viuda de Angelón – Viuda de Angelón Cider Press.
* Best International Group Cider: 2012 Roter Trieter mit Boskoop – ApfelWeinsommelier Michael Stöckl.
* Most Original Cider: Cidre Cuvée Chataigne – Kystin Cider Press.
* Best Perry: Sidra de Pera Viuda de Angelón – Viuda de Angelón Cider Press.
* Best Ice Cider: Sidra de Hielo Panizales – Panizales Cider Press.
* Best Cider Liquor: Aguardiente envejecido en roble. Salvador del Obispo – Casería San Juan del Obispo.

Dinner MenuThroughout the evening food was gradually served, cider poured, awards presented and presentations given. It was certainly a splendid evening and one I won’t forget for a while! The food and cider went down a complete treat and compliments definitely need to be given to the chef!

Ciders 1-4 Ciders 5-7
Ciders 1-4 Ciders 5-7
Ciders 8-10 Ciders 11-13
Ciders 8-10 Ciders 11-13
Ciders 14-16 Cider 17
Ciders 14-16 Cider 17
Ciders 18-20 Cider 21
Ciders 18-20 Cider 21

Cider Tasting Notes

(Note: Ciders were poured from right to left in the pictures to confuse matters!)

Cider No Producer Cider Comments
 1 Riestra Cider Press Guzman Riestra Brut Nature Cider Good dryness, sour tangy flavour and nice interesting feel to it. Very Drinkable. Bubbles enhance the flavour of the cider.
 2 Mayador Cider Press Mayador Rose Sweet, mild soft tangy flavours, but feels like it is lacking depth. Easy drinking.
 3 El Gaitero Cider Press El Gaitero Sin (Alcohol Free) Medium/Sweet, lightly dry finish and another easy drinking sparkling cider. Good for an alcohol free cider.
 4 El Gaitero Cider Press Tercio El Gaitero Similar to number 3 but more tangy and has a fuller flavour.
 5 El Gaitero Cider Press Natural El Gaitero Sour, dry and has a very puckering taste.
 6 Buznego Cider Press Zapica More sour than number 5 and too overpowering.
 7 Double L Katy (SV) Dry Reserve Lightly watery, dry and lacking something. Nice light bitterness to the taste though.
 8 Cockagee Keeved Cider Sweet and like apple juice with a hint of dryness. Doesn’t taste alcoholic.
 9 Michael Stockl Roter Trieter mit Boskoop Lots of sourness, good flavour and excites the taste buds.
 10 El Gobernador Cider Press Espanar Lightly sour/tangy, dry and has mild bitterness.
 11 Panizales Cider Press Panizales Sparkling Cider Lots of acidity, dry and fairly decent.
 12 El Gaitero Cider Press Pomarina Sweet and sour in taste, very appley and easy going. Not hugely flavoursome and lightly watery.
 13 Astarbe Cider Press Byhurt 24 Lots of dryness and has got some bitter tones to it. Not the most appetising for my palate.
 14 Zarracina Cider Press Picu Urriellu Sour, lightly sweet and tasty. Could happily drink a couple.
 15 Trabanco Cider Press Poma Aurea Dry, sour and lacking something. Not much else to the flavour.
 16 Viuda de Angelon Cider Press Brut Viuda de Angelon Sour, delicate and delicious.
 17 El Gobernador Cider Press Emilio Martinez Sour, tangy, dry and tasty.
 18 Viuda de Angelon Cider Press Perry Soft, smooth, delicate and has a gorgeous pear taste. Very nice and easy drinking.
 19 Llagar Kystin Cidre Cuvee Chataigne (Chesnut Cider) Strange and acquired taste. Is smooth and soft on the palate. Very unique and not something that was to my taste to begin with, but it grew on me.
 20 Panizales Cider Press Ice Cider Smooth, sweet, rich and has a lovely raisin type taste to it. Very moreish!
 21  Salvador de Obispo Oak-aged cider liqueur Lovely oak feel, smooth, warming and just amazing! A very good cider brandy.

Meal Courses

Course 1 Course 2
Course 1 – Autumn Consomme (Mushroom, pumpkin, apple & chestnuts) Course 2 – Anchovies from the Cantabric Sea with vegetables roaster over a firewood
 Course 3  Course 4
 Course 3 – Cream of Asturian cheese with contasts and sweet veil Course 4 – Corn bread with scrambled eggs of the house (cheese, onion confit & egg)
 Course 5  Course 6
 Course 5 – Limpets with cider cream, seaweed & potato Course 6  – Special croquettes with ham
 Course 7  Course 8
 Course 7 – Codfish tripes with soft pil pil, pepper water & chives Course 8 – Young goat from El Sueve stew with little potatoes
 Course 9  Course 10
 Course 9 – Truffle ice cream with corn cream & apple water Course 10 – Coffee


III INTERNATIONAL HALL OF GALA CIDER FAYRE

Asturias Cider FayreThe Saturday was the day that the cider was eventually showcased to the general public. This included cider from Asturias, Basque, France, Germany, Ireland and a selection I brought in from the UK. Entrance was €5 for the public and they could try as much cider as they wanted. It sounded like a fair deal to me! The stalls were manned by the producers (or helpers) and it was an occasion to learn more and try new things. Also during the day there was presentations from various producers, but also I was asked to talk about UK cider.

Asturian Cider Fayre LayoutEek, I certainly didn’t expect that or I’d have prepared a speech in advance. I was given 5 or 10 mins to get something together and I frantically thinking of ideas of what I actually should say. I’m not the best public speaker at the best of times and this was certainly cranking up the pressure a notch or 10! My time to speak had come and I decided to give the audience a talk on the ciders I had brought and UK cider in general. Giving the presentation made it feel like I was a new signing for a foreign football team and I was being presented to the fans. I had Anzu (from La Sidra) translating for me and it was a very surreal experience! I somehow managed to wing that and the crowd seemed very interested in our cider scene. The ciders were very well received and the 11 bottles went in literally no time at all! I could definitely see there being a market there if someone from the UK wanted to take a chance!

UK Cider SelectionThe fayre seemed a great success, I learnt a fair bit and took many new ciders home to try (reviews to follow soon!). Of course that was not going to be the end of our evening either. Another cider farm followed, more food was eaten and everyone in the group got on well.Overall the trip was a great success and I can’t wait to go back there again soon. To end this post I’ll put up a few of my views on their cider, their cider culture and some interesting facts I found out on the journey.

ASTURIAN CIDER CULTURE

Asturian Restaurant TableTheir cider culture is probably one of the most fanatical, passionate and amazing ones I have come across so far. It’s as if all of their lives revolve around cider and it has to be part of every occasion. This can range from weddings, christenings to even probably funerals! It seems to bring the people together and there is a great community spirit amongst everyone. Cider festivals can happen all the time and when a new cider barrel is ready they like to invite all the neighbours over for approval and lay on food too. No one is meant to leave until the barrel is empty either, which would suit me perfectly! It’s crazy really, but I love it. There is definitely a lot that can be learnt from them.

ASTURIAN CIDER FACTS/TRADITIONS

* A little cider is thrown away at the end of a drink to clean the glass.
* Glasses are shared between everyone and you don’t get one to yourself.
* There are approximately 200 varieties of cider apples in Asturias
* Asturians on average drink the most cider per person in the world at 45 litres each per year.
* 60 million litres of cider is drank in the region per year.
* Around 7-10 tonnes of apples are pressed at a time in their presses
* The average wooden barrel holds approx 8,000 litres and the stainless steel containers hold 20,000 litres.
* Apple picking is huge over in Asturias. They even have their own trade union and compete with each other to who can pick the most apples!
* There is an annual cider pouring competition in Asturias.
* Instead of collecting stamps, you are more likely to see someone collecting cider labels!
* The most popular food to accompany cider drinking is Fabada, which is a meaty bean stew. It usually consists of large white beans (fabes), shoulder of pork (lacón), black sausage (morcilla), and spicy sausage (chorizo).

OVERALL OPINION OF ASTURIAN CIDER

Asturian CiderFrom a personal point of view, I thought Asturian cider was tasty, refreshing and had a nice balance between acidity/sourness and dryness (like maybe a cross between French & German cider?). The one thing I noticed was the average producer generally makes a very similar cider to one another, though of course there is subtle differences. You always expect there to be differences with potentially different apples being used and the apples not being from the same land. It’s just back in the UK the variety between different tastes are on a bigger scale. There’s not a huge difference there like we get between say a Western & Eastern style in the UK. They do seem to be branching out into the champagne style cider market more and slowly innovating their cider away from their traditional ones.

For me it’s not really necessarily just about the cider in Asturias. It’s more of the experience and the culture you get submerged into. I will definitely be making a trip back there again soon.

Special thanks to the all the great people I met on the cider judging panel (David Llewellyn, Mark Jenkinson, Sasha Crommar, Michael Stöckl, Ingrid & the Basque cider guys), La Sidra and all the other wonderful people I met along the way.

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Anzu said,

    We’re glad you had a good time here. We’re waiting for you to come back soon an lots of British people willing to meet the legendary Asturian hospitality, unending food, and cider.

    Regards.

  2. 2

    Mark Jenkinson said,

    Hi Nick, nice to meet you in Asturias, what an enjoyable weekend, that’s a great round up of a fantastic cider (and of course food) event. will have to send you a few Irish ciders to try when I get a chance.
    Cheers,
    Mark.

  3. 3

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