It Rains In Spain

Cider House Rules in Asturias

Cider Pouring Asturias

Cider House Rules in Asturias

I had, it appeared, broken very strict etiquette. The aged Asturiano leaning on the bar in the Sidreria caught my eye and glanced away, raising his eyebrows slowly. For a fleeting moment there was a flicker of sympathy in the barman’s eyes as he looked directly at me – said sensitivity vanishing rapidly as I brusquely patted the bar, confident of my right to finish the bottle of cider sitting in front of me. “Do you want another?” he was giving me a final chance, I later learned. “No, I’ll finish this one, gracias.” The barman muttered, flicking another, derogatory this time, glance at the grimacing patron by my side and whipped away the bottle, throwing it into the bin of empties behind the bar. The sawdust covering the floor to soak up errant cider flew up in all directions – the force of derision in his movement palpable, uncomfortable. The bill was swiftly ordered, I left.

That first experience in a Sidreria Asturiana in Northern Spain was perhaps unfortunate. Asturians are warm genial hosts, welcoming to outsiders and keen to showcase their Celtic traditions, remarkable history and verdant land. Yet what happened that evening was revealing, for it highlights profoundly the deep ritual that Asturians feel for their Cider. The mistake I had made was simple. In sidrerias the cider is poured from a great height, served to the patron by the barman. Said height combined with a deft angling of the glass below the waist allows the liquid to acquire a light carbonation – little more than two fingers worth is poured at a time, and a traditionalist swiftly dispose of the cider in one. The patron then waits until he feels ready for another mouthful, catches the barman’s eye, and the process starts again. It is not uncommon for the barman to decide for you that it’s time to have another one. However due to the fermentation process of the cider, residues are left at the bottom of the bottle and hence, the final inch is never served. Therein lay my error. In a parallel world, I was the equivalent of a slightly surly chap stoically insisting on being served the sediment filled final centimeter of a bottle of fine red wine in a traditional bar, in Bordeaux, surrounded by locals.

Cider is a way of life in Asturias. The region’s beauty emanates from it’s isolation – cut off on all sides by colossal mountain ranges and the sea – Asturias developed quite apart from the rest of the Iberian peninsula and hence harbours some radically different traditions. Such is the geographical position, rain falls freely here and the region is ripe for apple orchards.

Since time immemorial, Asturianos have used their excess apples to ferment and develop Sidra. Long before Pelayo launched the Christian reconquest of Spain from the Asturian mountains in 722AD there are records of the locals partaking in the traditional serving of sidra  – though they were most probably less forgiving than their contemporary brethren of the errors of bolshy outsiders. Cider and Sidrerías are a unique part of the Asturian experience, and one not to be missed – just try to take a hint from the barman now and again.

Hence, to help you avoid being chased out of the village, here’s a rundown of Sidreria Asturiana etiquette:

1. Do not expect to finish the bottle – old men become flustered and barmen may be prone to angry outbursts.

2. Unless you are very confident/drunk/both do NOT attempt to pour it yourself in a bar, it’s harder than it looks. If you must make a fool of yourself, head to one of the designated pouring spots (it’s a huge bucket with one side).

3. Locals may leave a little drop of sidra remaining after finishing their gulp, tipping it out to clean the glass. This is optional – throw it in the designated trough in front of the bar.

4. Try not to look like you’re picking up the barman when you want another culin (serving) it’s easy to let your look linger too long when trying to catch his attention, depending on how much you want a drink. If your intention is to pick up the barman, linger away.

5. Instead of having the sidra poured, you may be handed a pump that does it for you. These are useful but the over-carbonation may lead to a rotten headache the next day. Tread carefully.

6. Sidra is well known in Asturias to creep up on you. You will feel fine one moment, guzzling merrily, then suddenly feel utterly apple-treed. Go slow.

7. Sidra is shared. Do not enter with a friend and order two sidras, order one and share it, greedy.

 

Useful Sidreria Vocabulary:

Un culín – A serving of cider (literally – a little bottom)

otro culin, por favor – Another serving, please.

Madre mia, me ha subido la sidra – Bloody hell, the cider has suddenly hit me.

 

 

Interested in Asturias? You might also be interested in: Introduction to Asturias, Guide to Oviedo, Guide to Gijon

Got anything to add to this article? Got an interesting Sidrería experience or more information? Post a comment below!