Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Orujo: Spanish for Grappa
Part of the fun of writing about liquor is that you never stop discovering intoxicants. Drinking is such an old human activity, and in many cases remains so fiercely regional, that the world is littered with liqueurs and spirits and wines that, though made in the same manner in the same place for centuries, are largely unknown to the greater world.
The other night, I was at a party hosted by a family with which I'm friends. The husband hails from Spain, and the family spends its summers in the small Spanish town where he was born. After a dinner of homemade paella, the couple asked me if I had ever tasted Orujo. No. I hadn't even heard of it. They pulled out a boxy bottle of clear liquid labeled A Pedra Moura Aguardiente de Orujo Blanca.
Explained simply, Orujo is the northwest Spain region of Galicia's answer to Grappa. It's distilled in a pot still from the fermented skins of local grapes. (The word Orujo means "grape pomace.") Many of the stills are quite old, and legend has it some were brought to the Iberian peninsula by the Arabs. Much of it is clear, or "blanca," but there is also aged Orujo, which is aged in barrels and is amber in color; and Orujos infused with herbs and fruit. There are only a few mass producers of Orujo, which explains why its not imported to the U.S. The best stuff, according to my friends, is made privately in people's basements, the few bottles produced being sold in shops in the amateur distiller's hometown. These are apparently amazing. In Spain, the stuff is typically drunk out of small cold glasses after lunch.
The one I sampled was very much like Grappa, but not quite. There was a oddly woody aftertaste that I could only attribute to the grape varieties involved. Or perhaps the spirit saw a little wood before it was bottled. But, unlike Grappa, a decent Orujo doesn't cost an arm and a leg for a tiny bottle. You can get 750 ml for about $15.
From orujo, Galicians make a traditional drink called queimada. The spirit is poured over bits of lemon peel, sugar and ground coffee into a clay pot. The pot is then lit on fire until the flame turns blue. Sounds ghastly. But I have a feeling it might taste great.