On egin dizuela janak eta kalterik ez edanak… May the food do you good and the drink do you no harm.
The Basque Country is known for many things, including gastronomy, sports of strength, the Guggenheim, the basseriak, and so on. But, it is also known for good drink. Two indegenious beverages are txakoli and sagardoa.
Nothing beats a good hard cider. My understanding is that, before the invention of refridgeration and the ability to import from long distances, the Basques made their alcohol out of what they had at hand, apples. There is a lot of mystique surrounding the sagardotegiak, the places where sagardoa — hard cider — is made. For example, it is said that the txalaparta — the Basque percussion instrument comprised of a few wooden planks on which two players beat out rhythms — was originally used to announce that the current batch of sagardoa was ready for drinking from one valley to the next. The sagardotegi itself is a very special place. I visited one just outside of Donostia in 1992. We all stood at a bar-like table, where we were served steak cut up into bite-sized pieces, among other things. Every once in a while, someone would shout out a call, and everyone would get in line in front of one of the humongous wooden barrels. The tap is opened and a stream of cider flows out. One by one, we went up to the barrel and held our glass under the stream to get a frothy serving of cider. This happened several times during the night. The stuff is a bit bitter, it isn’t sweet at all, not like the typical “apple cider” most Americans would think of. It is definitely an acquired taste, but one that is definitely worth acquiring.
The Gipuzkoa Natural Cider Association is trying to promote Basque sagardoa. The site describes the history of sagardoa, the process by which it is made, and the places you can try a nice glass of sagardoa. Sagardoetxea.com is a museum dedicated to sagardoa. It includes a guide to enjoying a day of cider.
Another Basque specialty is txakoli, a white, dry wine with a distinct taste. Unfortunately, while I’ve definitely partaken of txakoli, I never did acquire a taste for wine in general or txakoli in particular. So, I am not someone to comment on the uniqueness and intricacies of txakoli. So, instead, I’ll just point you to a few relevant links. Txakoli.com is an online txakoli store, featuring txakoli from the three primary associations of bodegas: Getaria, Bizkaia, and Araba, each of which gives information on the bodegas comprising each association and the txakolis that each makes.
Of course, there are other beverages associated with the Basque Country, including patxaran and kalimotxo.