Savoring Basque Cider in the Columbia Gorge

BY BECKY GARRISON 

Jasper Smith’s love of Basque cider was born from his love of food. “I had worked in the food and restaurant industry for five or six years and was blown away the first time I had Basque cider with a great meal,” he reflects. 

Basque cider is unique in the cider world for being both refreshingly dry and low intervention, and also being an incredible companion to a diverse array of food ranging from seafood to steak. 

In 2016, Smith took a trip to Basque country in Spain to visit the cider houses near San Sebastian. “That was a compelling and inspiring moment—the cider was fantastic and the low intervention production method was exactly how I wanted to produce cider back in Oregon,” he says. 

Despite the growing American market for cider, Smith could not find a domestic Basque-style cider. So he decided to create a cider that would pay homage to Spain’s Basque Country, while also creating and promoting the identity of the Columbia Gorge in the Pacific Northwest.  

“Basque Country is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places we’ve ever been. The verdant hills, cliffs and Columbia River remind us of Spain and inspire our work.” 

In August 2018, they released their first vintage Son of Man Sagardo (Basque for cider) produced in their cider house, which is situated in a cavernous warehouse space on the banks of the Columbia River in Cascade Locks. A giant mural of Basajuan, the mythical Basque “wild man” covers one of the stark white walls with fermentation and blending tanks sitting off to the back of the space. Long wood picnic tables allow ample seating to accommodate their special events. They open their warehouse door during the warmer months, thus allowing visitors to savor their wares alongside the Columbia River. 

Just like wine, Son of Man Cider is made once a year following the fall apple harvest. Similar to wine grapes, the cider apples they use are higher in tannin and acid and contain a ton of chemical compounds that fermenting yeast and bacteria transform into complex flavors and smells. 

Along with most cider houses in Spain, Son Of Man allows fermentation to happen spontaneously. This means they do not add any commercial yeasts, other fruits, adjuncts or artificial sweeteners. Nature does the work—the yeast and bacteria on the skin of the apples, blowing through the orchard and in the cellar convert the sugar in the juice into alcohol. 

Son Of Man’s Sagardo smells estery with soft tropical fruit aromas, like banana and pineapple. The mouth is fresh with notes of lemon and orange peel followed by green grass, and finishing with the subtle spiciness of clove. 

While Basque cider is bottled still, its natural carbonation gets awakened via a pouring method called “throwing the cider.” Pouring the cider from the bottle into the glass at the height of a few feet causes the cider to splash into the glass, creating a bubbly, fizzy head that resembles sparkling wine. 

In the late Spring, Smith plans to open their doors for Txotx (pronounced CHO-ch). This is a celebration of the fresh vintage of cider that includes pouring the cider straight from the fermentation tanks and pairing this cider with a wood fired meal made using locally sourced ingredients when possible. 

Currently Smith shares his space with Graham Markel of Buona Notte Wines. While they operate independently, both Markel and Smith exemplify the bounty and diversity of fruits produced in the Columbia Gorge region. 

Find information about where to purchase Son of Man Cider or to order tickets to their events at sonofman.co.