March 28th, 2016

Cider Aboard from Astarbe Sagardotegia!

Astarbe

Our expedition “In the Footsteps of Basque Whalers” and the Astarbe cider house located in Astigarraga, Guipuzkoa have come to a collaborative agreement to bring their cider aboard our expedition.

After over a year of careful searching for a traditional cider producer from the Basque Country to provide cider for our expedition, today we are very pleased to announce that we’ve come to an agreement with Astarbe Sagardotegia, one of the oldest cider producers in the Basque Country.

We based our decision not just on the superb quality of their cider and traditional cooking at their cider house but especially on the long history and tradition of cider making at Astarbe. With over 450 years of experience, Astarbe is one of the oldest cider producers in the Basque Country. Also  noteworthy is that during these past five centuries the cider house has been run continuously by one family. Today it’s the fifteenth generation of this family that cultivates the same orchards, processes the apples into cider and runs their year round sagardotegia (traditional cider house restaurant). The first document pertaining to cider production at the Astarbe Sagardotegia site dates back to May 20th 1563. The year is notable as it’s the same year that the whaleship San Juan was built just a few miles away in Pasaia. The San Juan of course was sunk in Red Bay, Labrador, Canada two years later during a violent storm. The discovery of the well preserved wreckage of the San Juan in 1978 was a huge catalyst for the study of Basque history in Canada and Basque transatlantic whale hunting. Today the San Juan is the basis of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Red Bay, A National Historic Site of Canada, one of the most valuable underwater archeological sites in the world, and one of the places our trip will visit in 2017.

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In a previous article we’ve spoken about the importance cider had aboard Basque whaleships. Cider was the most important beverage of the time in the Basque Country and given that it didn’t corrupt as easily as wine or beer it was a natural choice for stocking long term seafaring expeditions. It was so fundamental to whale hunting expeditions that sailors were often paid in cider – sometimes up to two bottles per day. Bringing cider aboard was a peculiarity specific to Basque whaleships and it came with an unexpected but very fortuitous side effect. The cider, and the apples that it is made from are packed with vitamins, vitamins not found in either wine or beer. The result of having this vitamin rich beverage aboard was that it protected sailors aboard Basque whaleships from contracting scurvy which was an absolute scourge to sailors around the world.

Given Astarbes’ longevity and proximity to the coast, it’s more than reasonable to believe that during the apogee of Basque transatlantic whale hunting, Astarbe may have provided some of the cider aboard the dozens of Galleons that crossed the Atlantic annually. The idea that on our expedition -which aims to pay homage and explore the legacy of the very first Basques in the Americas- we will be able to drink cider that comes from apple trees that are the direct descendants of the ones that provided for our sailing ancestors makes us profoundly happy.

More information on Astarbe, their cider and cider-house here.

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