One evening in San Sebastian, Le Boyfriend asked me if I was okay with hanging out with his friends at a cider house.
Cider? I love cider!
It was a resounding yes from me. I never turn down alcohol unless it is threatening to come back the way it went down.
I was going to pull a low-back dress from my luggage (one of the few pub crawl outfits I have in my wardrobe) when he said, “Wear something warm. It is going to be cold.”
Pfft. Why did I bring that dress in winter? I obviously don’t know how to pack for winter. Instead of this outfit I brought for a night out, I kept the wool dress and coat I wore during the day.
He was right, of course. The cider house was like a fridge. It didn’t help that the temperature outside fell to around 1°C as the night progressed. I’m afraid Le Boyfriend is right about most things, but since I don’t think he is going to read this (too busy), it is safe for me to express this opinion here. But I will never say this to his face.
I also thought cider fresh from a barrel of cider meant that it would taste like Somersby cider: sweet and light.
The cider house serves apple cider, and it tasted a little different from what I had expected. Okay, don’t get me wrong; it’s good, in a different way. The cider had a pleasant, rich oak taste in it, and it was not sweet – somehow, I felt more mature drinking it. Sugar does make me feel like a kid.
I was warned that most first timers get dead drunk at cider houses when he does not keep track of how many times he goes back for refills. Therefore, it is possible to underestimate how much he drinks.
This is how it works at cider houses: a customer pays a flat fee for dinner and cider. This price is usually around €30 (or more) for each person. Dinner is usually a 3 or 4 course meal, and not shabby at all.
When I was at this particular cider house, I was served delicately broiled fish (fish is one of Basque Country’s specialities, along with the wine), steak (nicely grilled and seasoned), bread (it is like rice in Asia) and tortilla ♥. (tortilla was probably on the top on my most-requested-food-when-in-Basque-Country list.) And of course, an unlimited flow of cider. We refused dessert because we were simply stuffed by the time the owner came around to ask if we wanted any. On hindsight, I should have taken a nibble since it was my first time there.
See barrels yonder? They contain enough cider to drown all the people in the room. Only that the owner would not be too happy that his cider was used to drown people. Not all the barrels are open. The ones which are open have a tap attached to it. We were free to help ourselves to any amount of cider from those barrels. The cider in each barrel tasted different.
Getting cider from those barrels was quite a unique experience.
One person stands at the tap and turns it. The first one in line for cider positions his mug so that he can catch the cider with it. The cider shoots out in a straight, thin stream. As mentioned before, all customers can get as much cider as possible. But each person only fills his mug to about a quarter full at each barrel. When he has gotten enough, he brings his mug closer to the tap and moves out of cider shooting range by moving sideways. At the same time, the next person in line positions his mug at an angle in order to catch the cider. This method of obtaining cider is to ensure that the cider is properly aerated. It just tastes better. Despite the care the guests have taken with the cider, the floor was still damp with cider.
The owner put his own special tap to unopened barrels twice during my evening there. The picture above was taken during one of the times he decided to open one of the closed barrels. The tap was taken away after everyone had a taste of the cider. Maybe he wanted to keep some exclusivity.
Basque men love football.
While I was there, the crowd was mostly talking about the match between the Basque team and another team, which was occurring during that point in time.
The babble rose to a roar when they learned that their beloved team had scored a goal. There were even people dressed in the team’s colours at the next table. They added table thumping to the equation. I was staring. A little.
We left around midnight. As I was feeling tired, Le Boyfriend and I headed home. His friends went for round 3 at a pub. (We met them at another pub. I had one beer. But I am not sure how many they already had.)
Sidreria Elorrabi (sorry, website is either in Catalan or Euskara.)
Caserio Elorrabi, Barrio Osiñaga 13 , 20120 Hernani
This is near San Sebastian.
Here’s an outdated article from Guardian about the top 10 cider houses in Basque Country. In English.
P.S: That night, I realised taxi drivers on call to cider houses have puke bags for the passengers. This was the first thing the taxi driver said to us as we boarded his cab.