Making Medronho seemed like a great idea when we first discussed it. Probably had a glass in hand at the time!
“água ardente” is portuguese for burning water.
A group of friends were talking about the differences and similarities between drinks in our mixture of pigeon Portuguese, bad English and a raft of mime gestures. The conversation was along the lines of – you know whiskey? all the Portuguese guys agree. Have you heard of Irish or Welsh whiskey? no. So one of the guys offered to bring some to our next get together so that they could taste the difference between each whiskey. As you can imagine this was a very popular suggestion !. Very soon local Portuguese Aquardente (Brandy) was mentioned and it was agreed that it was better aged with some oak chips than drank straight out of the still.
I stated that I didn’t drink Aquardente, Brandy or Whiskey as I didn’t like the smell. I surely must like a little “sniff” of Bagasso in my after lunch coffee though I was asked.
Bagasso is the roughest of the Portuguese spirit drinks (called Marc in France) made from the “bagasse” the leftover pips, skins and stalks of the grapes after the wine is made. It has an earthy/vegetable flavor and is great for cleaning the dead flies off your car windscreen.
Or you can always put a drop in your coffee.
Aghh… if you don’t like Aquardente or Bagasso you have got to like Aquardente de Medronhos my Portuguese friends said. Everyone agreed and as I had not tasted it before one of them said he would make some.
I knew that it was made from those red strawberry fruits that we see when walking the dog. The red fruit of the Medronho tree, Arbutus unedo, also called strawberry tree which I had picked and tasted but they had no juice and were a little like eating cotton wool.
This next part puts “Portuguese time” into perspective.
You and your family (in this case my friends family) go out along the forest tracks and collect only the reddest berries, you pick lots and lots. You pick so many that you never want to see another one.
In this instance it was around 100 kilos. The berries are put into a barrel with a very little water and pummeled with a wooden post. This goes on every day for 3 months and slowly the sugars are released and the brown smelly soup begins to ferment.
On the appointed day and I have no idea when that will be. No doubt decided by a family elder we will carry the barrel up to the fathers still (alembique) and distil something highly alcoholic and unpleasant.
Wikipedia had this to say – Homemade Aquardente de Medronhos
The Aguardente de Medronhos is a strong spirit, a traditional fruit brandy from Portugal, obtained from the fruit of the Medronho tree, Arbutus unedo, also called strawberry tree. Medronho trees grow wild on the poor soils in rural regions of Portugal such as Alentejo and the inner Algarve.
There is no commercial plantation of the trees and the fruits are mainly collected by local farmers, by hand and processed privately.
Therefore, good Aguardente de Medronhos is not easily found in supermarkets but instead bought mostly directly from these farmers. Very few farmers have a license for distillation, but are tolerated by the authorities to keep this traditional Portuguese specialty alive.
This is the best bit !!!
“Aguardente de Medronhos is very popular with ordinary people, such as farmers and fishermen, and often drunk for breakfast to wake the spirits” Alcohol content of the beverage can vary, however many bottles of Aguardente de Medronhos contain around 48%.
So when he said he would make some I had no idea just how long it would take.
I am quietly looking forward to having my spirits woken, watch out world!