Marcus and I had never tried fermented cider before. The thought of drinking alcoholic apple juice just didn’t appeal. But here we are entering Basque Country where cider is the national drink. Don’t you think we ought to try it?
While sitting at a café in the main square of Llanes, the Plaza Cristo Rey, we watched the sidrería (cider house) across the way. [An aside: I just love the way the Spanish language adds -ería on to the end of any noun to yield the name of an establishment that sells the noun. You want pan (bread)? Go to a panería. We buy bread from a bakery. Bread/bakery? You want to buy carne (meat)? Go to a carnería. We buy meat from a butcher. Want sidre (cider)? Go to a sidrería. Okay, that doesn’t translate, but you get the idea.]
So back to the sidrería we were watching…. There was one particular server who took great pride in pouring cider in the traditional Basque way: Hold the bottle above your head and the glass down by your thigh with the opening pointing away from you. Then pour the cider at such an angle that it arcs and hits just inside the rim of the glass. This is called “cracking” the cider and (supposedly) makes it taste better. I’m sure just from the description you can tell this is easier watched than done. If we were going to try cider, it wouldn’t be from the comfort of our own apartment where we would end up mopping the floor. We needed to have an expert pour it, and who better than this marksman across the way.
We sauntered over. In my halting Spanish I told him that we had never tried cider before, and what did he recommend? In retrospect, I think this was probably a mistake as he brought out a bottle without a label and with an unsealed cork haphazardly stuck in the top. I ignored the little voice that told me not to drink anything unsealed, hoping the alcohol would kill any germs.
So this is how it goes: You don’t pour your own cider. The guy comes to your table when he sees that your glass is empty. And he only pours one swallow, each time from a height of probably three feet. The cider is cloudy at first, I suppose from all the cracking going on, and you’re supposed to drink it before the cloudiness settles out. But we made the mistake of sipping it. Ackkkk!
How can I delicately describe the taste? It tasted just like all the men’s rooms (and the walls of some buildings in dark alleyways) we have smelled (without trying) in Spain. We looked at each other wide-eyed. Had I made a mistake by confessing our ignorance about cider, and this was our server’s payback to all the tourists that had tormented him all day? (I’m thinking back to that unsealed bottle.) Or was the fragrance so powerful that this is the parfum that exudes from every post-processed-cider receptacle in Spain? We may never know, but you can betcha that we will never drink cider again!