Juiced on Apples

Sidra. I grew up with it. It came to Cuba, other Latin American destinations, and Hispanic bodegas in the U.S., from Asturias, my maternal patria chica. As in the north of France, the north of Spain is home to apple orchards, and sidra from Asturias was and is a staple in many a household with ties not only to the region but simply to Spain. It’s a sweet drink, negligibly low in alcohol, which explains why I was allowed to drink it as a kid. Come New Year’s Eve, it was the toast of choice among my people – along with the 12 grapes, one for each midnight bell stroke. Cuban sophisticates from upper echelons may be drinking Veuve Clicquot, but in my home we drank sidra asturiana.

As I got older I grew out of my fondness for this cider because I was growing out of my sweet tooth. The one kids have, and the ones Cubans of all ages have, thus our fondness for cloyingly sweet desserts. I craved drier stuff. American cider was only a notch tarter than apple juice, plus there was neither alcohol nor fizz, so what was the point? Too damn wholesome. Somewhere along my life, however, I discovered hard cider. It hit the right nostalgia points on a grandson of asturianos who grew up with sidra. And it satisfied my thirst for a sturdy, dry drink.

Now that everything Spanish you would love to put in your mouth, including P . . . , no, that’s not right, now that everything Spanish is trendy – who would’ve thunk? – cidra asturiana, the hard not the sweet kind, is having its day of influence. The artisanal movement is teeming with folk, some but not all with asturiano blood, who after spending time in Spain come back home with a dream of making hard cider, the stuff that Asturias was lesser known for until recently, a brew drier and stronger than the sweet fizz of my childhood.

In Corvallis, Oregon, a family and their friends run a company, 2 Towns Ciderhouse (www.2townsciderhouse.com), inspired by the time family members spent in Spain. One of them is living in Asturias and managing Hard Cider International, a website devoted to the stuff, at www.hardciderinternational.com.  There you will find about artisanal cider makers from all over, about siderías (Asturias’ cider bars), and reviews of bottled ciders.

But in Corvallis you can actually drink it and buy it. Their tasting room offers flights of both house ciders and ciders from other, often even more intensely artisanal, houses, plus samples from a local winery. I tasted only ciders because that was what I had come thirsting for, and they were all different and good. There was a pear cider that was interesting, even if the pear flavor was lost to me in the depths of its complexity. There was one in the style of an English farmhouse cider that took me on a Proustian journey to a country pub decades ago, and left me, as such experiences always do, in a fog of bittersweet nostalgia for a lost youth and its pleasures. Mostly, I liked the intense flavor of 2 Towns’ Bad Apple and Serious Scrump and I bought bottles of each to take with me. The first was semi-sweet, which allowed it a full apple flavor that some ciders seemed to lack and I appreciated, probably from my young memory of sweet sidra. The other also tasted of apples, supposedly from “scrumps”, apples that had fallen from their own weight, though I was told “scrump” was a word that mostly meant stolen apples. I was assured theirs were properly bought, like all 2 Towns ciders, from orchards in the Northwest – Serious Scrump is spiked with local blackberry honey.

All I needed after this heady tasting was a big fabada, Asturias’ fabled broad bean and blood sausage soup/stew. The Oregon fall was turning into winter and the rain and chill called for such fare. But then I would’ve needed a bed to sleep off my gastronomic tour in a country inn, preferably run by asturianos. Instead I found a beer cave in downtown Corvallis, Les Caves, that served a smashing carrot ginger soup and I topped it with another cider, an organic English one from their big collection of brews. The rain blew on the road home – I wasn’t driving – and though the American Northwest is very far from the Spanish Northwest, I fancied it blew all the way from Asturias, where my mother was not born but conceived.