"Una botella...un vaso" proclaimed the bartender. Foolishly, I had asked for two glasses to go along with my bottle of Miravalles,—a Spanish cider, or Sidra Natural—at Madrid's Casa Minga. And as my sixty year old bartender proceeded to step out from behind the bar, raise my bottle two feet over his head, and splash the cider into a wide-mouthed glass below, I knew that even despite being several hundred kilometers south of Spain's cider-producing region, we were definitely in the right place.
When traveling abroad, exploring local drinking habits usually ranks third on my list of priorities. The first two are stamping my passport and finding a clean bed. And while the architecture, the museums, and even shopping are all important aspects of exploring a new culture, I feel that the true spirit of any great city begins at the bar and ends at the dinner table. So when the opportunity arose to spend a few days in Spain exploring the local sidra culture, I grabbed my Lonely Planet, brushed up on my high school Spanish vocabulary, and aimed my GPS to the nearest pintxos bar.
Finding Sidra in Spain
With its lack of carbonation and intense aroma of citrus fruit (slightly past its prime), sidra is rarely the cider I recommend for large parties or uninitiated palates. But to those who love the tartness of Spain's local cider, the complex flavors and characteristics of a bottle of sidra can be as intoxicating as the naturally fermented juice within. And while sidra is incredibly limited on American soil, it can be found in just about every one of Spain's Basque and Asturian restaurants.
When looking for sidra, your best bet is to look for pintxos (pronounced "pinchos"), Northern Spain's take on tapas. These little bread slices, topped with assorted vegetables, fish, and meats, line the tops of Asturian tapas bars as patrons walk around sampling as many, or as few, as they like. And where there are pintxos, there is bound to be sidra.
Most better wine stores throughout Spain also carry bottles of sidra. We even picked up two bottles for five euros in Barcelona's renowned Boqueria. Here, like most of the stores we visited, Trabanco was the ubiquitous choice.
How to Order Sidra in Spain
Ordering cider in Spain is simple. After you have bellied up to a pintxos bar, all you really need to say is "una sidra, por favor" (a cider, please) or "una mas sidra, por favor" (one more cider, please). Often. Your cider will come streaming from a large wooden barrel on the wall; its long trajectory aerating the cider and releasing the flavors. If you are in a wine bar or more formal setting, kindly request "una vaso de sidra" or a glass of cider. You may end up with a bottle, or "botella" at some restaurants that do not have sidra on tap but even the 750ml bottle will only set you back a few euros.
Our Favorite Sidra Spots in Seville, Barcelona, and Madrid
The only place we found real Spanish sidra in Seville was at La Alacena de San Eloy (San Eloy, 31; map). Instead of the standard issue Rioja, this better-than-average tapas bar hosts an exceptional offering of local wines by the glass. They also offer sidra natural for one euro a glass, served from a faux barrel on the wall.
There are three Sagardi pinxtos bars in Barcelona, and each serves sidra on draft. Our favorite is in the Barri Gotic (Argenteria, 62; map) whose casual fare makes for a nice break from a long day of shopping.
But if you want the full on experience of pinxtos and sidra, head over to Taktika Berri (Valencia, 169; map) for pinxtos by the bar or more formal Northern Spanish fare in the back. Patrons line up before the doors open, so arrive early if you want a seat or just grab a plate and stand near the counter along the wall. The cider here is Zelaia, a rounder, more food-friendly sidra that does not make its way stateside and quickly became our favorite sidra discovery of the trip.
Casa Mingo (Paseo de la Florida, 34; map) is a required stop on any cider tour of Madrid. This old-style Asturian hall is the closest sideria experience you'll get in the city, with waiters serving up plates of roasted chicken, goat cheese, and chorizo beside their proprietary house cider.
Their Sidra Avilesina is the only carbonated, sweet cider we came across on our trip and while it retains some of the funky sidra character we love, it is not nearly as punchy as its uncarbonated counterpart. For the full experience, order a botella of sidra natural from the bar. If you're lucky, or your Spanish is better than mine, the bartender may raise the bottle high and aerate your cider the old fashioned way...with a six-foot pour from overhead that unapologetically leaves quite a bit on the floor. Of course, at four euros a bottle, the real deal is a worthwhile experience.