Put This Basque Beverage on Your Drink List! (#WorldWineTravel)

isastegi natural cider

I was delighted when the #WorldWineTravel group decided to take a detour from wine to sip hard cider this month, thanks to our host Camilla (Culinary Adventures with Camilla). Mark and I always enjoy local Basque cider when we head to San Sebastian, yet I never knew much about the beverage in my glass. This was the opportunity learn more. Catch Camilla’s invitation post here and scroll down to discover additional group articles about cider from Spain and other countries.

Basque hard sidra is a unique cider made in Spain.

The cider season runs mid-January to April in the northern Spanish Basque country each year. Txotx (pronounced chōch) is a call to toast the new cider that originally began in the 19th century at the cider houses themselves (called Sagardotegis in Basque). An old custom, and now an entertaining modern ritual, Txotx is when sidra streams directly from the fermentation cask into the glass. While the actual tradition runs just four months, you can taste this cider all year. In fact, many cider houses now offer the ‘txotx experience’ year long.

Txotx ritual in progress! Photo courtesy of Isastegi.

The celebratory process goes something like this- the cider house host opens the barrel room to the public. A tap is placed about head-height in a large barrel using a piece of wood called txotx. He/she then shouts “txotx” and anyone who wants cider brings their glass. When the host opens the tap, a thin stream of cider shoots out of the barrel. One by one, people catch just a small amount, trying not to spill.

Now you have cider in your glass, however, this is not your average sparkling cider.

In fact, txotx (sidra) does not follow the carbonation path. The apples that produce it naturally ferment with indigenous yeast with no addition of sugar. Pressing follows, then it goes into cupolas (large barrels) where it is stored until January. The resulting beverage has a bit more tartness, is slightly more acidic and much drier than sparkling cider. If you don’t like sweet, this might be the ultimate cider for you!

Isastegi cupelas Basque cider

Cupelas are large old barrels traditionally used in sidra production. Many cider houses, or Sagardotegis in Basque, continue to use them today.

And how about bubbles? The angle and force of it shooting from the barrel are enough that catching the sidra in your glass adds a touch of effervescence. If you cannot make it to a txotx celebration, think Txakoli wine; like Txakoli, sidra is always poured from as far a distance as possible and in small quantities to enjoy with food.

Isastegi Euskal Basque cider

Pouring from a distance aerates the cider, helping to diminish any vinegar aromas that might be present and open up those of the cider. Photo courtesy of Isastegi.

With this Basque sidra knowledge, I asked myself how they compare to France hard cider?

The Difference Between Spanish Basque and French Hard Cider

Again, northern Spanish Basque sidra is not carbonated, and most often spontaneously ferments. Some producers use wild yeasts found on the apples. Sidra is known for its mild to sharp tartness, slight acidity and dryness. Some say they are reminiscent of a sour-style beer or kombucha.

You find them in 700 ml green glass bottles secured with cork cap. Expect a bit of sediment at the bottom. Typical alcohol content is 5-7% ABV.

Most French ciders come from the northern Normandy and Brittany areas. They are high in carbonation and relatively sweet, coming from a process called keeving, which arrests the fermentation before the yeast can convert all the natural sugars to alcohol. Strong glass bottles are topped with a cork and cage (like sparkling wine). Brut are the driest, yet will almost always be sweeter than dry ciders from other cider regions. If labeled demi-sec or doux, sweetness prevails. Typical alcohol is a bit lower: 3-5% ABV

Both Spanish Basque and French hard ciders are a delight yet in a different way.

Heading to Isastegi for Euskal (Basque) Sagardoa (Cider)

isastegi basque cider house

While Mark and I have enjoyed Isastegi cider a few times with pintxos. Our next trip to San Sebastian will include a visit to their cider house in Toloso outside of San Sebastian. It’s just three hours south of Bordeaux!

The Isastegi farm dates to the 17th century and remains in the same family today. In 1984, family member Migel Mari Lasa switched from both apples and cattle to one hundred percent apples to concentrate on cider.

Their cider is made from organically-grown, native Basque apples farmed within a 15-kilometer radius of their cider house in Tolosa. 

Over the years they fine-tuned their processes with use of stainless-steel tanks for production to ensure cleanliness and a clean, apple-driven product. And they helped push through two key cider making organizations that denote apple origin, standards, and quality– Euskal Sagardoa PDO (protected designation of origin) and the Gorenak Society.

Disclosure- I received this bottle as a sample, all opinions are my own and no compensation was received.

isastegi basque ciderIsastegi Euskal Sagardoa Natural 

(Euskal Sagardoa translates to Basque Cider)

This sidra pours a pale, slightly cloudy gold with a greenish rim. First aromas are crisp green and yellow apple then after ten minutes, savory notes of floral, hay and earth.

In the mouth it’s dry with green and yellow apples yet has a savory and slightly sour side that reminds me of fresh and young sauerkraut. With medium-plus acidity and a blush of tannin, this cider is the definition of alive!

It was poured into our glass from about 2 ½ feet (just under a meter) in between lockdowns last year in San Sebastian, and here again on our terrace.

I prefer Basque cider with food, pintxos or tapas preferred: grilled meats, tortilla de bacalao (cod omelet), grilled vegetables, or a hunk of the slightly smoky Basque Idiazabal cheese with quince paste (membrillo) and walnuts.

Isastegi is organic certified by ENEEK (Basque Organic Regulatory Council). They do not add sulfites to their cider.

I hope I piqued your interest to try Basque cider. Serve it cold and with finger foods or a meal, and definitely with friends! (SRP $7.95, ABV 5%)

More Cider From World Wine Travel Bloggers

Spain, France, or another country? I’m sure you’ll find a cider and foods to go with this adult beverage in the articles below from the #WorldWineTravel group!

A special thanks to Isastega for indulging me with their photos until I can visit and take my own.

Sources: Growler Mag  Cider Guide   History of Basque Cider and Txotx

12 thoughts on “Put This Basque Beverage on Your Drink List! (#WorldWineTravel)

  1. robincgc

    How fascinating to learn about Basque cider and Txotx! I love that you are able to get to San Sebastian so often, I guess it is not too far from Bordeaux?
    I also enjoyed learning about the “keeving” process in Normandy.

    I have so much more to learn about ciders!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      We are lucky to be within 2 1/2 to 3 hours of SS, depending on how much caffeine I’ve had. Cider is a whole other world… I’m with you on so much more to learn!

      Reply
  2. CAMILLA M MANN

    Lynn, if this is a second comment, I apologize. I thought I commented, but don’t see it here. So, I’ll try again. You inspired Jake to try the high pour out of a mini porrón. I think I need a full-sized one! Don’t ask why I have one sized for hobbits; I have NO idea. Thanks for joining in the cider fun and games this month.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I saw your photo of Jake doing that on IG, glad he was inspired. I can imagine he’ll ace the pour with a regular sized porrón too!

      Reply
  3. john

    Your headline lured me in! Glad I opened this essay and read it… always nice to learn something new from a region I love. Go hard sidra!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Well thanks for that feedback. Nice to know it clicked and you now have a new cider to try!

      Reply
  4. Martin D Redmond

    I read an article about the differences between Asturias cider and Basque cider will doing some research for the event. (one of the biggest differences is that Sidra Asturiana is produced in much larger volume) Basque cider definitely sounds like one I should try!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for the tidbit regarding differences between the two ciders. I’ve yet to try any from Asturias.

      Reply

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