You wait a while for some Spanish Sidra spotlights on Cider Review, and then two come along in the space of a month! Reading Adam’s excellent Duty Free Selections at Bilbao Airport article at the start of the month spurred to me get my act together and put digital ink to digital paper. My visit to Spain was for a work event at a rather large telecoms conference in Barcelona at the very start of March. Unlike Adam, I could find not a drop of sidra in Barcelona Airport Duty Free. But all was not lost, as I had already stashed away a few 750ml bottles in my hold luggage that were purchased the preceding evening on a walking tour of the city with one of my lovely ex-housemates from Cambridge days.
Strolling down Carrer D’Aribau, we had passed a swanky looking bottle shop called Cuvée 3000 and popped in to see if there was any cider or perry alongside the walls of wine. This was one of my ancillary hopes for the visit – to find some proper, dry, authentic Spanish Sidra – which up till now had proved elusive. Positioned on the top shelf of an extensive display of natural wines, was a row of 16 different bottles of cider and perry from France, Denmark, and…Spain! Nestled in the centre of the row were 3 different bottles from the same producer, Bizio, with eye-catching labels, all of which were Spanish. (I’d already picked one of the bottles out for my photo). I asked the lady running the shop if it was easy to import cider and perry from across Europe to the shop? “From everywhere yes- except the UK,” was her reply. Another of those intangible Brexit-benefits we’re all having to live with…
The Bizio cider, pyder, and co-ferments all made it safely back to the UK and after reaching out to the cidery on Instagram, a lovely cross-border, hassle-free, friendly interview was conducted. It reinforced my belief, and no doubt a collective experience for a lot of readers of this site, that the world of cider & perry is an open, amiable one – full of folk who want to share stories of their journey working with this amazing fruit, and nurture those with an interest in these drinks to discover more.
CR: What’s your name and job role at Bizio?
Maore: My name is Maore Ruiz Lizundia and I´m responsible for designing and making our cider (fruit mixes, percentages, varieties, process.). I also maintain contact with our growers of apples, berries, pears, etc.
CR: How long has Bizio been making cider, perry, and co-ferments?
Maore: Bizio started building itself during June 2021 – quite a new project that has only released the 2021 vintage. Around May 2023 we are releasing our second vintage 2022. Actually, the first time that I made cider was with our first vintage! Even though the previous years before starting the Bizio project I started to be interested in liquid fermentations, natural sodas, kombucha, wine, and also fermented vegetables. So I guess I had some knowledge about the wild and alive world. I studied in the Basque Culinary Centre and worked as a chef there for almost 5 years. I also need to say that even though I didn’t have the interest I always seemed to be surrounded by fermentation. My dad used to make Txakoli every year at home and my grandad use to make wine as well in the south of Spain (Malaga). So, I was close to the process.
CR: Where is Bizio located?
Maore: Right now Bizio doesn’t have a specific location, we live in Durango (Bizkaia) but we are nomads. We produce all our cider in Zelaia (Astigarraga), a cidery.
CR: What’s the attitude like towards cider in that part of Spain? Is it popular in the culture?
Maore: Traditionally in Spain cider production is most popular on the north (Basque country, Asturias and a little bit in Galicia). Cider history in those places is quite long and still is a big thing. At the same time as understanding what cider is and its flavour profile, it’s also difficult to start making a non-traditional and artisan cider. Higher prices, different packaging, fruit mixes, etc. I also think that the consumption of cider in the Basque country is really linked to specific moments and popular dates, that’s something that we’re trying to change.
CR: Ah yes, cider for all year around! Do you have your own orchards, or do you buy in fruit?
Maore: We buy or pick our own apples, but they are not from our own property. That´s something that we would really like, but it´s quite difficult and expensive nowadays to get your own land. What we do is to contact people that don’t pick the apples nowadays, or that have left cider production but still have orchards.
CR: Can you name some of the varieties of apples and pears that you pick? And the qualities that these fruits have? Are they high in acid or tannin?
Maore: The apples include Bost Kantoi, Urdin Sagarra, San Pedro, Bustin Sagarra, and Konika. The pears include Conference and some wild varieties (no names for me 😅). We use a lot more as well but those are what we mostly used in 2021. With apples it´s mostly a mix of tannic and acid apples – I would like to work with more tannic apple because I like the body that they give, but acidic are also interesting for balance.
CR: Do you use specific yeasts, or is it Wild Fermentation using the natural yeasts on the fruit?
Maore : We always trust the wild yeast, I´d never used yeast strains. They are strong enough to do what they are meant to do.
CR: What fermentation and maturation vessels do you use? Plastic? Wooden barrels? Stainless steel?
Maore: We basically use 1000 litre plastic vessels, but not because we think they are the best, it’s much more for economic reasons. However, we also use some wine barrels for aging as a way of experimenting and learning how the cider works on wood. As we work as nomads at our cidery, our cider stays for some days in inox (stainless steel) as well, but as I said, for most of the process it´s in plastic. As a cider-maker I would love to have more chances to work with clay, concrete, big wooden barrels, etc. but that´s not our reality nowadays.
CR: How do you feel about the level of volatile acidity/acetic acid in the ciders?
Maore: Of course it depends on the cider style, but I´m not afraid of it. I like funkiness and I think that when it´s in balance, it’s nice to have it. When you don´t use any sulphites or specific yeast strains you will probably get it with apples… it’s not always about sanitation, it also depends on apple varieties. In our ciders I see it as a complement, not as a mistake.
CR: Is there a way you prefer to serve the cider and perry? Chilled or room temperature?
Maore: Unfortunately I´ve never tried a 100% perry so I can´t answer to that. The one we have is just 25% pear. But with the ciders I think that in summertime it´s nice to have them chilled because most people like to have a fresh juice. In winter however, it’s not that funny to have them too cold. But if I had to choose, I´d have it from a fresh room not too cold, because that´s the perfect temperature to taste it properly, when you can see the potential. It´s also important to consider the acidity and sweetness of the product regarding the serving temperature.
CR: How easy is it for you to export your drinks to countries in the rest of the EU? And how challenging to export to the UK?
Maore: We don´t have any experience exporting yet. Our first vintage was a small batch and we decided to sell it locally. It´s important to grow and expand slowly. This year although we have almost the same number of bottles, we will try to sell little batches abroad, so people can start trying our ciders.
CR: Who designs your labels? They’re very eye-catching!
Maore: Brou Gràfic is the name of the studio. Amaia Moran is the person that is most involved in the project with us, although the brand was created by the whole team. They work from Barcelona. It´s amazing how so many people follow us just for the design. It’s quite cool.
CR: How much cider did you make in 2021 and 2022?
Maore: In 2021 we produced 6000 litres, filling 5500 bottles. In 2022, we produced another 6000 litres and we will fill around 7500 bottles (some of them they are not even bottled yet).
CR: In the UK, small producers who make 7000 litres and less don’t have to paid duty on their drinks. Is there a similar scheme in Spain for start-up cider companies?
Maore: Here if you’re a small producer, the health and safety department is not so strict, so I guess it´s easier to have your own place to produce. But it is still not that easy to start your own cidery, they pretend you have to almost be a hospital with all the equipment, proper floor and walls, a lot of different rooms. It can be a bit crazy. On taxes, in Spain wine and cider production don´t pay alcohol taxes because they are seen as traditional and popular drinks. Beer producers however, have to pay.
CR: Have you tried much UK cider? Both from the big producers (Westons, Thatchers, Bulmers) and small producers (Little Pomona, Oliver’s, Ross On Wye)?
Maore: I actually haven’t tried a lot of UK ciders. I would like to try more, but I haven’t tried a lot of international ciders. Last November I was in Norway International Cider Festival in Bergen and I had the opportunity to try different styles of ciders. I tried Olivers and Little Pomona there as well as Fjordfolk Mikrobryggeri, a cidery in Norway, managed by an English guy that has a lot of English apple varieties – that was definitely more of an English-style of cider. They were really interesting, and it opened my mind to another kind of cider. Of course, I also tried more commercial stuff like Bulmers but I don’t really like that kind of sweet cider. It’s nice to see how a lot of these ciders are made, really technical, with a lot of investment and machinery, but for me it’s too clean.
CR: Ross On Wye actually have made two vintages of Spanish Apples cider from varieties that came from Spain that they planted in their orchard in Herefordshire (south west England). It would be very interesting to hear your opinion on those bottles.
Maore: About Ross On Wye cider, I met them as well at that festival in Norway I think, but I didn’t have the chance to try their cider. Of course, I would love to try some bottles of theirs if they can make their way to Spain!
CR: What’s the future like for orchards in Spain? Is climate change affecting apple and pear trees? Or are those varieties native to Spain used to the hot temperatures and lower rainfall?
Maore: I think last year was crucial with that issue. Last year we saw just how extreme the effect of dry and warm weather affects the apple trees. It’s been a problem for the last few years in some orchards, the skin of the trees and fruit gets sunburnt. It’s not the most common thing thankfully. Maybe we will see an increase in it in some years, but I don’t think it’s affecting the orchards a lot just yet. There are bigger problems which I will speak about now. For me one of the biggest problems with the orchards is that there’s not enough apple trees in the Basque country to produce 100% local cider. So, most of the big cideries, around 80% of their production is from foreign apples from Normandy, Poland, and other countries. So, we have a problem giving the cider an appropriate value it needs in our country. It’s not valued right now. The costs are really low. You can buy a cider for two euros in the supermarket, which is unfair compared to other drinks like wine or beer. It has just the same work involved in production as wine, but you don’t pay as much for it.
I think one of the problems is that most of the big producers can’t charge that price as they’re not using a majority of apples from our region. Another problem is also because the orchards that were planted in the Basque country are not properly managed. A lot of farmers abandoned them because the price paid per kilo of apples is really low. To take care of an orchard all year is a lot of work. So if you sell your apples at that low price, you lose money. If people don’t want to plant more orchards because the price is too low, then it becomes a never-ending cycle. Less and less local apples…we are selling our ciders at a higher price point than these traditional ciders. We are also trying to pay more to the farmers because that will be better for us in the future.
CR: One more question: what ciders are you releasing in 2023?
Maore: This is what we’re looking at realising this year:
Apple 100% / Apple + Plum / Apple + Blackberry / Apple + Pear / Apple + Wild Cherry / Apple +Wild Cherry + Plum / Apple + Kiwi / Apple + Elderflower + Honey. Some of them I´m not sure will work, just experiments ha!
CR: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at Cider Review Maore.
Bizio Topa! – review
How I Served It: Straight from the fridge after a day cooling down.
Appearance: Hazy cider smog
On The Nose: Not too overtly acetic I must say, green apple skin.
In The Mouth: Vibrant and dry. With thanks to the acidity and tannin, you’d never guess this was from the 2021 harvest.
In A Nutshell: If the eye-catching label didn’t pull you in, then the taste will. A pleasant surprise for those palettes that don’t like their cider too acetic.
Bizio La Pera – review
How I Served It: 24 hrs in the fridge, straight into the glass.
Appearance: Golden haze
On The Nose: A definite acetic twang to this one – I know Conference pears can go this way quite easily in a perry.
In The Mouth: I’m finding it quite hard to taste anything other than the volatile acidity with this pyder.
In A Nutshell: A Spanish Pyder, which I’ve never tried before, but which will hopefully use a few more of those wild pears that Maore mentioned in future vintages, as it was quite overwhelmed by volatile acidity for my palate.
Bizio Basoa – review
How I Served It: A couple of hours in the fridge and then served.
Appearance: Like a Pale Ale, even has the slight mousse on top like the head on a pint of real ale.
On The Nose: Oh, the acetic nature is almost imperceptible here. Instead, green apple skins and something else a bit richer a plummy…ah yes…plums!
In The Mouth: Great mouthfeel, again no real acetic nature to it this time.
In A Nutshell: An apple and plum co-ferment which makes me want to try Pilton’s Smokey Plum releases again. The best of the three for my palate.