How About a GT?!

Portugal is well known for its wines, but how about gin? That’s right, I said gin! Many drinks aficionados know about Spanish gins, Gin Mare being one of them, but Portugal? Not so much.
Well, I’m here to tell you that some amazing gins are being produced in Portugal. The lion’s share of Portuguese gin comes from the Alentejo region in the south. However, I am partial to the lesser-known gins from the north. (I live in Porto so, I am biased!)
Probably the most well-known brand is Sharish, which comes in a cool pseudo triangular bottle. Well, look…

Sharish Blue Magic Gin.

It is like a London Dry style of gin, to my taste, with even the juniper flavors dialed down a bit. Sharish also makes a gin called Blue Magic, which changes color when it comes into contact with tonic water. A nice touch, a gin that is refreshing and entertaining!
Big Boss is the next best-known brand and is made with 11 different botanicals. They also make a pink gin. These two are on my list to try, among others!

My favorite is Quinta de Ventozelo gin which is made by the winery of the same name and is located in the Douro wine region. It is the result of a research project with Biomedicas Abel Salazar in downtown Porto, and Cantinho das Aromaticas in Vila Nova de Gaia. (The latter is a farm that produces herb teas and plants. it also has a fascinating history that dates back to the 12th century!)
Ventozelo is a delightful botanical gin made from a wine derived distillate, lemon peel, mint, coriander, juniper, thyme, and lavender, among other herbs.

Ventozelo Craft Dry Gin

It is crisp and lemony on the palate with hints of herb, especially thyme. It also turns opalescent in the glass when served with tonic water. The Ventozelo site suggests making its gin and tonic using non-aromatic tonic water, and three juniper berries, and to garnish with an olive or a grape. (I like to garnish it with a slice of lemon.) It is refreshing and delicious for summer!

My next favorite is Tinto gin. Tinto is a red gin from the Minho region, which is also home to the wines of Vinho Verde. It is made with local ingredients that include, blackberry, rosemary, and poppy, along with Perico, a local variety of pear. The red color comes from the poppy flowers. It also comes in a cool bottle with a plain cork stopper and gold lettering. The Tinto gin has a sweet herbal nose and drinks almost like an amaro, it is so herbaceous in flavor. Fab on its own or with tonic.

Tinto, Red Premium Gin.

There are a host of others that I am on a mission to try. These gins are as unique as the country that produces them and are worth the hunt to find them. Sadly, finding any of them outside of Portugal is a challenge, at best. So, if you come across one, give it a whirl!

Aguardente Anyone? (Agua who?!)

Aguardente is the Portuguese take on brandy. And, OMG, it is good! As a longtime brandy, Cognac, and Armagnac lover, I was thrilled to find a Portuguese take on the spirit. In the US, a decent brandy starts at about $30 a bottle. Excellent everyday Portuguese brandy can be found for about fourteen euros a bottle. Yes, Virginia, Portugal is a dream come true for lovers of quality drink! (Wait ’till we get to the gins and vodkas!)

Aguarente.01
São Domingos Aguardente Vinica Velhíssima.

How does Portuguese brandy compare to its European counterparts? Favorably! It tends to be softer and sweeter than traditional cognacs and German brandies. For a stronger spirit from Portugal, there is bagaceira. Bagaceira is clear, strong, and delicious. If you are into that type of jet fuel…! Reminiscent of Italian grappa, it is usually bootlegged. But, it can be found for sale at some wineries.

Aguardente.XO.1
Aguardente from Lourinhã.

Portugal has a demarcated region for it’s best aguardente. It is called Lourinhã and is located on the coast near Lisbon. Lourinhã aguardente is magically delicious and costs more than your average supermarket variety. Aromas of candied fruit, and brown sugar on the nose. On the palate, dried fig and nut flavors with a silky smooth finish and a hint of sweetness. If you like brandy and come across a good aguardente, it is a must-try!

Coming soon: The Last of our Stuff, and Festival Season!

So, we just figured out that the last two boxes that we shipped from Denver should arrive soon!  They cleared customs about a week ago.  These were the things we forgot to pack up and send with the movers: a framed botanical print (heirloom) and some miscellaneous kitchen things that we had to have.  We should have just left them, but noooo…that would’ve been too easy!  Hopefully, they will arrive soon.

Meanwhile, Portugal has officially entered festival season!  P-A-R-T-Y, because we gotta!  The Porto Beer festival kicked it off for us.  Craft beer in Portugal is just getting started which is awesome!  As much of a wino as I am, it is great to have a good beer occasionally.

PBF.Signage
Porto International Craft Beer Festival Sign.

The Porto beer fest is the biggest artisanal beer festival in Europe with 47 breweries and 368 beers to try and, they do it right here!  It runs over four days and there are lots of food trucks to choose from for having a good nosh to pair with the beers.  You pay 4 Euros for a glass and purchase tokens for beer samples.  You can come and go as you please over the four days.

This eliminates the insanity that we see at the GABF:  Huge mobs of drunken hooligans in Denver for three days trying to sample 3,000 beers in one day because the tickets are so expensive ($70-85) with no real food.  The Great American Beer Festival was fun 15-20 years ago before it became such a behemoth scene.  It’s so American; take everything to the extreme and charge as much as possible.

We had some great brews from Portugal, Spain, Estonia and the Netherlands, to name a few.  There were even a couple from the US, Sierra Nevada and Kona Brewing.  There was also a nice Spanish whiskey and coffee liquor to sample from Yria out of Madrid.  Their beers were great as well and they had a delicious mead made with cherries.  Yum!

PBF.Beers
Porto Beer Fest Beers for purchase.

For food there were delicious empanadas, prosciutto like ham and Serra Estrela Portuguese cheese sandwiches which were outstanding, several different kinds of burger trucks, crepes, sweet and savory and a tasty doughnut like cake from the Algarve that was dangerously delicious.  There were even several vegetarian offerings.  Yes, all in all the event was a taste treat sensation.

On June 23rd, we will have the festival of São João here in Porto, which is a BIG deal, I’ve heard.  Can’t wait.  It is the official start of the grilled sardine season, one of my favorites.  And don’t even say ew until you’ve had one here.  They are delicious and nothing like the sad fishy things you get in the states.  (Even though I liked those too!)

Stay tuned!

Festival Season!

Portugal has officially entered festival season!  P-A-R-T-Y, because we gotta!  The Porto International Craft Beer Festival kicked it off for us.  Craft beer in Portugal is just starting to take off which is great for veteran beer geeks like ourselves.  As much as wine is usually my first drink of choice, it is great to have a good beer occasionally. And when I say a good beer, I don’t mean some fruit flavored concoction the likes of which are so popular in the states right now.

The Porto beer fest is the biggest artisanal beer festival in Europe with 47 breweries and 368 beers to try and, they do it right here!  It runs over four days and there are lots of food trucks to choose from for having a good nosh to pair with the beers.  You pay 4 Euros for a glass and purchase tokens for beer samples.  You can come and go as you please over the four days. 

This eliminates the insanity that is seen at the GABF:  Huge mobs of drunken hooligans in Denver for three days trying to sample 3,000 beers in one day because the tickets are so expensive ($70-85) with no real food.  The Great American Beer Festival was fun 15-20 years ago before it became such a behemoth scene.  It’s so American; take everything to the extreme and charge as much as possible.

We tried some excellent brews from Portugal, Spain, Estonia and the Netherlands, to name a few.  There were even a couple from the US, Sierra Nevada and Kona Brewing.  There was also a nice Spanish whiskey and coffee liquor to sample from Yria out of Madrid, Spain.  Their beers were great as well and they had a delicious mead made with cherries.   

Yria Whiskey and Coffee Liquor

For food there were delicious empanadas, prosciutto like ham and Serra Estrela Portuguese cheese sandwiches which were outstanding, several different kinds of burger trucks, crepes, sweet and savory and a tasty doughnut like cake from the Algarve that was dangerously delicious.  There were even several vegetarian offerings.  Yes, all in all the event was a taste treat sensation. We will certainly plan to attend the Porto beer fest again next year!

Escher Exhibit/O Prado Take 2

The next day we wandered back down to the water.  We had noticed on our first day out that the Museum of Popular Art had an exhibit of M.C. Escher’s work.  Along with the Tower of Belem, the Museum of Pop Art is on the banks of the Tagus River.  It is a fun dichotomy that the two are almost literally down the street from each other. 16th and 20th centuries pretty much next door to each other in the enchanting city of Lisbon!

Since Joe and I are both big Escher fans we decided to check it out.  It was amazing to see the man’s work up close and personal, so to speak!  The amount of detail in his drawings is mind blowing.  There was also a fun interactive piece that let one enter the orb in the Hand with Reflecting Sphere pen and ink drawing.  It was an illusion, of course but most of this master’s work is illusion based, so totally appropriate! The entire exhibit was entertaining, informative and awe inspiring.

After the museum we had some sangria at a hotel that had a patio on the water.  The weather was beautiful and the scenery equally so.  It was interesting to note that folks were sporting winter, even fur coats in the 60ish degree weather.  Sort of the opposite of what we have in Colorado where it is common to see people in shorts and flip-flops when it is 30 degrees or colder and snowing!  I have never understood this having been taught to dress for the weather.  Kind of crazy either way, I guess!

We had dinner at one of the seafood restaurants on the way back from our sunset patio excursion.  There was a gentleman standing outside extolling the virtues of the food inside and after a couple of suggestions about the menu I said, “I’m in, let’s do it”!  Holy mother of amazing seafood!  I had horse mackerel with a Spanish sauce and Joe had a squid and shrimp skewer.  Both were outstanding, as was the white wine we had with it.  All for about 30 Euros.  A meal like that would’ve cost $100-150 stateside.

After dinner we strolled back toward our Airbnb and decided to stop back in at O Prado for a night cap.  A night cap, right.  Clearly, I had no idea who I was dealing with!  We sat at the bar again and were warmly greeted by our new BFFs, Christina and Johnny.  Boy, did we get more than we bargained for!  After a bottle of Cartuxa, an excellent Portuguese red wine, if you ever run across it, I was ready for that night cap!  So, Johnny pulled out some of their home-made hooch.  Portuguese grappa, if you will.  Now, I happen to love grappa, and this was wickedly smooth and delicious.  But wait, there was more!  Next, he pulled out a barrel aged version of the same fire water which was even more delicious than the first!  Then, of course, I had to try some of the Portuguese aguardente which literally means fire water.  Really, it was Portuguese brandy.  Thankfully, Joe is not a big grappa/brandy fan, so he only had little sips of each.  I, on the other hand, partook fully.  Being the world class enablers that our hosts were, they sent us home with little samples of the two home made liquors, cleverly disguised in recycled apple juice bottles!  Love them, mean it, they came in handy later in our trip.

I vaguely remember staggering back to our place.  Joe says it was a small miracle that we made it back in the dark after all that drink!  Yes, I was in for a world class hang over, to be sure.