In the Asturias region, producers combine innovation and tradition to make different types of cider such as sparkling, natural, organic or even ice cider.
It's impossible to get a feel for the Asturias region without visiting its apple orchards and cider mills.
Villaviciosa is the epicentre of Asturian cider production, which is a Denomination of Origin quality brand. The region is Spain's largest cider producer and the fourth largest in Europe.
An apple orchards paradise
With fertile ground watered by the region's largest estuary, Villaviciosa is an apple orchards paradise. This one belongs to Ovidio, an experienced apple grower.
"There are about 500 varieties in Asturias," says apple grower Ovidio Tomás. "Here, qualifying for Denomination of Origin, we've 8 or 10."
Only 76 varieties are recognised for cider that gets the Denomination of Origin label.
"Apples have to be tart and sweet for cider," says Ovidio. "This is how it needs to be… sour and juicy”
Each apple brings a different flavour. Then it's craftsmanship that will turn them into natural, organic, iced or sparkling ciders, like the one created in this cider-production house, one of the oldest in the region.
Tano Collada, from cider maker El Gaitero, comes from the fourth generation of cider makers. He selects the varieties, blending the right amount of acidity, sweet and bitter apples.
"Depending on the cider, we find different varieties," he says. "Other ciders are crafted not by blending varieties but by analysing chemical and physical characteristics. If I want an amount of acidity and bitterness I mix 3, 4, 6, 8 or 10 varieties to get what I want”.
A subtle bubble and golden colour
In a stunning historic cellar made out of old chestnut barrels that was built in 1898, the company came up with the idea of “sparkling” the natural cider.
"It was in this cellar that the cider was fermented," explains Tano. "Then the gas generated was added again before bottling to make it sparkling. That way the cider was preserved for travel, for export to America."
Nowadays it's crafted through a second fermentation like “cava” or “champagne”.
"Here are bottles where we have the cider in secondary fermentation," says Tano. "At 18 months we rotate them, an eighth of a turn every day, to bring down the yeast, which we can see here, so the cider it's clean without yeast, it's not cloudy.
This makes an excellent cider with a subtle bubble and golden colour.
"I can taste the acidity, a bit of bitterness and a sweet finish, and that is because of the apple we have seen," he says.
Still in Villaviciosa, Cortina, a family cider mill, has turned tradition into innovation.
"We have many varieties here, green, red, big, medium and small, a mix of everything," explains Tino Cortina.
He runs us through the traditional crafting process where apples are pressed to juice and taken to barrels for fermentation.
Now they've started to craft “ice cider", made with frozen apple juice to bring out the natural sugar. It's a sweet beverage that Tino discovered by chance. Its flavour brought him back to his childhood.
"It reminded me of the aroma of the apples that my grandmother kept in the granary during the winter," he says. "That aroma somehow made me look for a way to make ice cider in Asturias."
But traditional cider is undoubtedly the most popular in the region. It’s not only a beverage, it's an intrinsic part of Asturian culture. It's served in small quantities to aerate it in an unusual and unique ritual called "escanciado."
As the Asturian writer Valentin Andrés said: “If by the apple we lost paradise, we may return to it through cider”