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What Is Galician Aguardiente?

Ian and Irene (RibeiraSacra)

The Galician Aguardiente or Orujo is the alcoholic spirit that is produced by distillation of fermented grape skins from the residue of winemaking. The Orujo’s character is closely linked to factors that are influenced by the grape, the vineyard and extraction of the pomace and ultimately the distillation.

When the wine is drained from the vat the pomice then taken immediately from the wine vats to the distillery, in order to give the Orujo a good quality. If not then there could be problems, at worse, an increase in methyl alcohol content and subsequent poisoning or at the least loss of alcohol content.

The distillation of the Orujo to obtain liquor is a tradition as long as the wine making has been in Galicia, and it is a firmly planted element in the lives of its inhabitants. There is an “art” to making Orujo. The technique to regulate the heat to allow the distillation to occur at a slow and steady pace is one. This allows unpleasant components, mainly aromatic, to escape into the air rather than being caught up in the alcohol. After the vaporization of the liquid under the heat it is allowed to condensate immediately. There are two different gasses used to heat up the distilling kettle. One is butane the other is propane. They have different heat calorific values and are used to influence the nature of Orujo that is being made. Sometimes afterwards the Orujo is stored in Oak barrels to give it a distinctive flavour.

The Orujo is either served as a clear spirit or a liquor can be made for this spirit. The liquor can be made into many things but the most traditional is Coffee Liquor, other alternatives you may be offered are Chestnut Liquor, or Apple Liquor among others. The drink is served as an after meal drink, day or night.

One tradition associated with Orujo, and is said to date back to Celtic times, is the Queimada. This is ritual where the Aguardiente is poured into a traditional earthenware bowel and then set alight. Whilst the alcohol is burning a Conxuro is read out. This is a sort of poem. It is said to ward off evil sprits, witches and demons. The flames are a beautiful blue colour.

The ritual of aguardiente

The ritual of aguardiente

This article has been written with the cooperation of Ian & Irene. They both reside in Galicia, northwestern Spain, where they run a casa rural, Casa Santo Estevo. Ian is English and worked for the majority of his life as a Civil Engineer designing everything from roads to sewerage treatment works. Irene is Dutch and has worked in the tourist trade before her last position in the computer industry. Having met, they lived in The Netherlands before getting married. Six years ago they moved onto their new venture in Spain. Neither of them knew too much about wine production before moving to the Ribeira Sacrá, but they are learning fast.

© SlowTrav, 2010

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