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It's Cider Time!
20 January 2015

 

Basque cider makers produce around 10 million litres of cider every year, a figure that gives you some idea of the popularity of this exquisite drink. The season officially gets underway in January with a unique ritual organised by Gipuzkoa's producers at a sargadotegi (the Basque name for a cider cellar or bar), usually in the town of Astigarraga. Every year, a leading celebrity from Basque society, like a pelotari (pelota player) or some other famous sports personality, is given the job of pouring the season's first glass of cider. They do it directly from the kupela (barrel) to the cry of: ‘Gure Sagardo Berria’ (our new cider).  This marks the start of the new cider season, which lasts up to April or May. For the remainder of the year cider is still drunk, but in bottles, unless you go to a sagardotegi, where you can still be served directly from the barrel. 

There are currently around 70 operating cider cellars, most of which are concentrated in Gipuzkoa, especially in the region of Donostialdea, in the towns of Astigarraga, Hernani, Urnieta and Usúrbil, although you can also find some in Bizkaia and Araba. They all serve seasonal natural cider.

The most outstanding feature of the cider period is that the drink is poured directly from the kupelas, which are usually arranged around the dining room in the cider cellars or bars. The sagardoegile (cider maker) opens up the kupelas throughout the evening to the cry of “txotx!” and anyone who wants a drink just has to get up and take their glass over to the barrel. You need to remember that here you only pay for the glass, so you can drink all you like for the same price.

 

 

This custom began as a private tasting session for wholesale buyers, who used to go to the cider cellars to taste and choose the best drinks. Over time, the activity became popular and grew to become a gastronomy event that you can't miss if you're visiting the Basque Country. According to tradition, cider is always accompanied by cod omelette, fried cod with green peppers, chops and cheese with quince jelly and walnuts. A menu that is customarily eaten without a plate, sharing a single serving dish and standing up. This is the best way of enjoying this gastronomic and social ritual, although what you normally find in Basque cider cellars and bars are long tables with benches to sit on.

 



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