The people of Galicia in Northwestern Spain have a long tradition of making strong distilled liqueurs, and none is more famous than orujo. This locally produced liqueur is indeed strong (between 37 and 45 percent alcohol by volume) and can be consumed by itself or used to make the popular and very traditional Galician drink called queimada.
Orujo’s basic ingredient is the residue from wine production, from which it also gets its name. Once the grapes are crushed, the orujos can be used to produce the liqueur. The grape skins, seeds, and stalks are fermented in open vats and then distilled. Stills, called alambiques, alquitaras or potas are traditionally large copper kettles that are heated over an open fire, while a poteiro (orujo distiller) watches over his brew. The distilling process in the alambiques takes 6 hours or more. The copper stills used by Galicians for centuries are thought to have been brought to the Iberian peninsula by the Arabs. It should be noted that alcohol distilled in this old-fashioned way can contain harmful alcohol and oils and is best left to the experts.
The orujo that is produced by the distillation is a colorless liquor, while the orujo anvejecido, or "aged orujo," is amber in color. The aged variety is fermented and distilled the same way, but is then poured into oak barrels to age for at least two years.
History and Traditions
Since the 17th century, Galicians have made orujo on their farms and take great pride in their liqueur, with each family carefully guarding their own secret recipe. There are now over 20 commercial producers of orujo within La Denominación Específica Orujo de Galicia, which was formed in 1989. Although orujo from Galicia is probably the most famous, it is also made in other regions, such as Cantabria. The monasteries in the county of Liébana, Cantabria has been distilling orujo since the Middle Ages. Each November, the town of Potes celebrates the Fiesta del Orujo, including tastings and a contest where participants distill orujo in public with their own stills, and judges award a prize for the best-tasting batch.
From orujo, Galicians traditionally make a drink called queimada in which bits of lemon peel, sugar, and ground coffee are put into a clay pot. Then, the orujo is poured on top and the pot is lit on fire until the flame turns blue. This ancient tradition dates back to Celtic times and includes a ritual where the maker of the queimada recites a "spell" as he assembles the concoction.