When I started to ferment hard cider in my basement, I knew that I had to get deeper into the world of hard ciders. Since I grew up in New York State, which still produces a hell of a lot of apples, I definitely knew the difference between commercial, filtered and pasteurized juice, and fresh from the farm apple cider. Of course I enjoyed them both as a kid, but as an adult, I try to only drink apple cider, as opposed to what us Americans call apple “juice” — overly filtered, sugar added, bright yellow, and mostly lacking the taste of fresh apples or apples at all for that matter.
My first stop on my impromptu world Hard Cider tour is the Basque region of Spain, where the tradition of the sagardotegi, or cider house, is still alive and well. Basque Cider is distinct from many other ciders of the world in that it is still, typically served from large barrels, and has many distinctive serving rituals associated with it, including, but not limited to, pouring directly from the bottle into the glass at a height of 3′ or more (sometimes behind the back) and tapping the gigantic barrels and filling a glass directly that way. Both of these serving methods produce bubbles that promote aromatic explosions when the Cider is consumed, and are necessary because in the bottle or from the barrel, the Cider is completely still.
Sarasola Sagardoa is one of the few Basque Ciders that makes it into the United States, brought in by the venerable distributors at B. United. It pours a bright and vibrant yellow color with tints of green and a bit of sedimental cloudiness. Drinking Sarasola was a complete revelation for me, as I’ve been searching for other “wild” tasting beverages ever since I got my hands on some Cantilon and Russian River bottles in the past few years. This Cider manages to maintain the careful balance between sour and sweet, wild and mild, and everything inbetween. A sharp, tart initial flavor is balanced and rounded by sweetness, but a dry finish makes it more drinkable than even a normal glass of Cider. Low in ABV, there is no alcohol on the nose or on the pallette, and this gentle beverage manages to maintain an enormous amount of its original apple character. Naturally fermented without the addition of yeasts or sugars, Sarasola Sagardoa is as pure and delicious as any wild fermented beverage could possibly be — deep in flavor with a tannic quality, and a very complex flavor profile that changes over time, this is perhaps the most wine-like beverage I have reviewed yet for this blog. This is a great Cider to drink with some food – and next time I am going to have it with a grilled steak like they do in Basque country. If anyone knows of any other Basque ciders I can get my hands on, let me know.
Up next, some Cider from France, and some from Brooklyn…my own.George Lindemann . Chris Isham of CBS News is active on Twitter