An Englishman in Asturias: Cider and Photography

 

The four winners of the Asturian cider magazine, La Sidra, annual photo contest. Bradshaw is the second from the left.

The four winners of the Asturian cider magazine, La Sidra, annual photo contest. Bradshaw is the second from the left. The other three winners are: Carlos de Cos Azcona, Miguel Angel Valles and Jose Antonio Morlesín. Photo by Carlos de Cos Azcona.

Bill Bradshaw, English cider freelance photographer, won first prize in an annual photo competition from the Asturian cider magazine, La Sidra, and traveled to Asturias to collect his earnings. This is his story.

Written by guest writer Bill Bradshaw
Photography provided by La Sidra and Carlos de Cos Azcona

Asturias is the autonomous northern region and a final remnant of Celtic pre-Roman Spain.

I visited Asturias from the 21st to the 24th of January. I won the annual photo competition for the Asturian cider magazine, La Sidra, and I went to collect my winnings. You have, of course, to question the merit of spending several hundred Euros to collect several hundred Euros, but I had to go. One specific (and previously unknown to myself) condition of entering the competition is that if you win, you travel to collect.

Bill Bradshaw won first prize for the annual La Sidra photo competition.

Bill Bradshaw won first prize for the annual La Sidra photo competition. Photo provided by La Sidra.

As the rarest (and possibly stupidest) breed of freelance photographer—one who specializes in cider—I also had to enter. I was really chuffed to be told I had won first prize (€500) with a UK image because the Asturians are probably the most passionate cider drinkers on the planet, after me of course. My high was brief, when I realized I had to attend and pay for my travel out of the winnings. Of course, it’s only an excuse I needed for an international cider trip.

Asturias may be in Spain, but it’s certainly not Spanish. If I had to compare it to anywhere, I would suggest Wales. It’s not British but in Britain, with a unique language, history and culture. They are very proud people; they’re Celtic roots run deep and are nurtured with a visceral pride making them also the most hospitable of people.

No matter how hard I tried or how stealthy I made my undercover attempts, I couldn’t pay for a thing. It was all pre-arranged or all ready paid for. I’ve never been invited to eat my way through 20 steaks for 6 people before (after a hefty meat platter, 2 cheese boards, breads… etc.). I’ve also never finished lunch at 5 p.m. either.

Our first visit was to El Gaitero, in Villaviciosa, a sparkling cider, cidermaker who exports cider to the entire Spanish-speaking world. It‘s a lovely place to visit and well worth the time. The museum alone was fascinating, particularly the kitsch 1980’s advertising. The cellars are fantastic; the sort I dream about at night. It’s the first ciderhouse I’ve visited anywhere in the world with its own dockyard. As we arrived ten minutes early, I discovered there were 15 or more of us booked in tour.

My host Llucía, a journalist from La Sidra, opened the back of her car and pulled out a bottle of brandy, helped us all to glasses and poured each of us a sample. Does it say a lot about me that I felt easily at home drinking brandy with foreigners in a car park after dark?

The town of Villaviciosa itself is a cider lover’s paradise. I’ve never seen so many cider bars in one town anywhere in the world—ever.

Photographer Bill Bradshaw, right, spent the second to last weekend in January in Asturias. He compares Asturias to Spain as Wales is to England.

Photographer Bill Bradshaw, right, spent the second to last weekend in January in Asturias. He compares Asturias to Spain as Wales is to England. Photo by Carlos de Cos Azcona.

Be warned though, as a foreigner drinking sidra in Asturias, one of the pitfalls is the traditional way they drink it. A bottle is opened, poured from a great height to effervesce the flat liquid and then the glass is handed to the group. Someone takes it, drinks most of it discarding the final slurp onto the floor and returns the glass. The process is repeated until everyone in the group has had a drink.

However, in our case, it seemed there was always a superfluous glassful passing through the group, that not wanting to appear rude, I felt compelled to put out of its misery. Now that in itself doesn’t sound too bad, until you wake up the next morning and can’t understand why you feel so terrible.

I realized on day two (I’m pretty slow) that I’m used to buying measured amounts; in particular, UK pints. I know how many I can drink before I fall over. When you are handed over a glass with approximately two to three gulps in it, how many ‘measures’ add up to your normal limit? And how can I possibly keep count?

Another aspect that can make things painful is the grazing. I love tapas (in Asturias tapas are more commonly called pinchos), they are fantastic; but again, it’s difficult to know if you’ve eaten sufficient enough to cope with the responsibility of entertaining an excitable drinking nature.

If I went to visit Asturias again, I would learn a song first. Asturians like to sing when they drink—not a phenomenon I’m used to. We British shout and laugh and bang tables then stumble around, they love a good sing-song and frequently burst into a passionate, if slightly melancholic rounds of song.

Then it was my turn: they asked me to sing for them…

The four winners of La Sidra's photo contest. Bradshaw is the second on the left. Photo by Carlos de Cos Azcona.

Bradshaw, second from the left, found it difficult to judge just how much cider he could drink before really feeling its effects. Photo by Carlos de Cos Azcona.

Um… we don’t really do that in UK. I don’t really know any…

What about your… Wassail parties?” said Llucía “You can sing us those songs.”

Um, I don’t know all the words. Any of the words. Or the song actually.

Sorry U.K.—I let the team down on that one.

The general level of passion for sidra is higher in Asturias than the equivalent in U.K. That’s not to say there aren’t truly passionate people here—there are many here—but there are just more of them per capita in Asturias. Should you too be a passionate cider drinker who is planning to visit Asturias, you are now forewarned with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve to be forearmed!

 

 

You can follow Bill Bradshaw adventures on Twitter is @IAMCIDER or you can search the archive on his popular blog iamcider.blogspot.com to see what he’s up to elsewhere in the world of cider.