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 and can be consumed by itself or used to make the popular and very traditional Galician drink called queimada.
Ingredients: Residue from wine production
Calories in a Shot: 90
Origin: Northwestern Spain
Aged: 6 hours to 2 years
Serve: Straight or mixed in a traditional drink
What Is Orujo Made From?
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.
What Does Orujo Taste Like?
Orujo is commonly compared to grappa, which has a slightly sour and sweet taste, with a plum-like or grape-like flavor. It's quite a strong alcohol and can also have herbal notes and even a sinus-clearing strength to it.
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 is a local certification group that was formed in 1989. To be certified as a commercial producer of orujo, a producer must register through the group and undergo inspections and tastings.
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 three-day 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. Usually, 15–20 local producers will participate in the festival and vie for the yearly prize.
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.
How to Drink Orujo
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 while assembling the concoction.
Orujo can also be made in the less dramatic fashion in a drink called Crema de Orujo. This is like a less sweet version of Baileys. The orujo is mixed with coffee extract, caramel, cocoa, and milk base. Other mix-ins may include apple, chocolate, lemon, cherry, honey, and cranberry. Some people may choose to indulge in a chupito, or shot of orujo. This shot is more commonly sipped and savored, rather than quickly consumed in one big gulp.
Since this is a rare type of alcohol, there are not a lot of variations. Try it straight up or in a very traditional cocktail known as Queimada.
Orujo can be hard to find in the United States since it's such a regional drink in a relatively small area in Spain. Look for liquor stores that stock more exotic liquors. Two brands of orujo that can be found in the United States are Abadia da Cova Galician Orujo and Do Ferreiro Orujo de Galicia. In the U.S., the orujo is often sold with Spanish brandy and cognac.
Orujo vs. Grappa
There's a likely reason that the taste of oroju is compared to grappa. Both liquors are made from grapes and the remnants of grapes including stems and seeds. Grappa is known to have a taste like soured plums with a honey twist. It's often pretty sweet, where orujo is a stronger alcohol taste that is a bit sourer.