The people of Galicia in Northwestern Spain have a long tradition of making strong distilled liqueurs and none is more famous than orujo. Locally produced orujo is indeed a strong liqueur (between 37 and 45% alcohol by volume) that can be drunk by itself or used to make the popular and very traditional Galician drink called queimada.
Orujo’s basic ingredient is the residue from wine production. Once the grapes are crushed, the orujos or residue of the grapes can be used to produce the liqueur of the same name. 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.
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. Both types are shown in the first photo.
The second photo shows a close-up of the Casajul brand orujo, made in Burgos. The drawing depicts a distiller tending a traditional copper alambique.
Since the XVII century Galicians have made orujo on their farms and take great pride in their liqueur, each family carefully guarding their own secret recipe. However, there are now over 20 commercial producers of orujo within La Denominación Específica Orujo de Galicia, (Denomination Orujo of Galicia,) which was formed in 1989. 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 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.
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 queimada-maker recites a "spell" as he makes the drink.