Cider is so intrinsically linked to Asturian culture that the beverage is key to understand this land and its residents. Gustavo Costales is one who has cider in his DNA. His family has been running Sidra Frutos from 1935, when his great-grandfather, Fructuoso –hence the company’s name, Frutos- founded the cider house that he manages today. Located in Quintueles, between Gijón and Villaviciosa, this llagar (Asturian for cider house) produces around 500,000 litres of sidra (cider) a year.
Gustavo is kind and straight-forward, with a smile on his face and the self-confidence that being the fourth-generation in the family business must entitled to, he explains that “I started to work here when I was around 20. When I was younger, 14 or 15, I used to come during the summer and I gave a hand with cleaning bottles, distribution, bottling…”. Many cider houses in Asturias are family business and those who grow up within the industry know better than anyone that there are harvests and harvests. However, Asturians have no mercy at the sidrerías. In the land where apples grow, being good isn’t enough. The cider has to have certain attributes that people simply expect. Excellence is just the norm.
The most frantic months at the llagar start with the apple harvesting, at the end of the summer/beginning of autumn and last for around two months. “In those days we work really long hours –says Gustavo, who adds- we only get to sleep 5 or 6 hours, but that is the way it is”.
As Gustavo explains the process of cider making, he recognises that “the seasons set the pace for cider making”. When the season starts, the apples get into the llagar and they are cleaned with pressurised water, then only suitable apples are selected and sent to be ground down. The resulting pulp is then transferred to the cider press to extract the juice; the latter can take up to three days. Finally, the apple juice is moved to the barrels to ferment. Normally fermentation can take from three weeks to over six. As Gustavo explains, “the warmer the weather, the faster the sugar is consumed, the colder, the slower” and he adds “that is why I said that it is nature that sets the pace, from the apple ripeness, to its collection or fermentation… nature rules”.
From there the cider develops little by little into the Asturian cider we know. The bottling moment can come after four months in the barrels or after twelve, it doesn’t have a fix period. “Once I have the barrels full, I have cider to bottle all year long, you have to take into account that in two months you are making the cider that you will bottle in December, but also the one you’ll bottle almost a year later”.
In the middle of my visit comes José Antonio, a specialist technician whose job involves assuring that cider meets high quality standards before leaving the cider house. His simple definition of the perfect cider is “the absence of imperfections”.
We taste the cider that will be bottled during the week and when I mention how different Asturian and English ciders are, they explain that one of the reasons for this is that the carbonation of Asturian cider happens in the barrel and it is bottled after. Frutos cider is a well balanced natural cider. Sweetness, acidity and sourness are even, it is refreshing to the taste and it has a dry and clean finish.
One of the most remarkable particularities of the Asturian cider is the way it is served. At sidrerías as well as at home, there is only one way to have the cider and that is pouring it from above. The ritual requires good practice, one arm holds the bottle upwards, while the other holds the glass downwards, pouring the drink in small quantities. This is known as “escanciar un culín”. The most important detail is that once you are handled the glass, you need to drink it quickly. The air bubbles and sparkling taste do not last long.
Sidra Frutos can organise “espichas” (a gathering with friends, traditionally held in the llagares –cider houses- when the first barrel was opened) under request. The best time for these celebrations is February and March, when the first barrels are being opened, so if you are in Asturias, do not hesitate to contact them.
Barrio Friuz, 28
33314 Quintueles (Villaviciosa)
Principado de Asturias
(+34) 985 89 48 26