Potes, a beautiful medieval town located at the foot of the Picos de Europa, is the setting for the Orujo Festival -moonshine-, which takes place every second weekend of November.
The aim is to promote the liquor and to display the traditional process of distilling the pomace and grape residue by using ‘Alquitaras’. These ‘alquitaras’ are the traditional copper stills used in the Liebana valley, of which Potes is the capital.
A little bit of history
Going back to the last century, it was common to have stills at home for people to make their own Orujo. Nowadays, this tradition has been lost and only the manufacturing companies produce their brands.
It was in 1984 when the first Orujo ‘meeting’ took place. There was a break of a few years in which the event could not be celebrated due to a ban on home-made orujo and mobile ‘alquitaras‘. However, officially the first Orujo festival took place in 1991. Nowadays only the registered olive-pomace producers are allowed to make the liquor at the festival, but a control procedure has to be followed whereby tax inspectors attend the festival to unseal the ‘alquitaras’.
How the Orujo festival is celebrated
Starting on Friday evening, various folk bands, together with people dressed in regional costumes, take to the streets of Potes.
The public tasting on the stands and the sampling are held on Saturday, after the opening speech delivered by the ‘orujero mayor’. Usually, he is a personality from the world of culture, sports, communication or art. On the following day, he will have the honour of presenting the Gold Alquitara to the winner manufacturer for the best ‘orujo’ of the year.
My personal point of view
There was something that surprised me when, on Saturday, on the way to the stands, I started to see egg cartons everywhere. I didn´t realise what they were for until the stands opened for the public-tasting. The egg cartons turned out to be the best way to hold plenty of tiny mugs at once, and it saves you having to queue up to get new samples.
The over 50% alcohol content in this transparent spirit helps you to remain warm despite the low temperatures that can be reached at this time of the year. Besides, for those, who like me, are not fond of strong liquors, it may be a good excuse to get some samples of the milder drinks and choose which one to take home. These drinks are also made with ‘orujo’ but flavoured with natural products gathered from the mountains, such as honey, flowers, nuts…There is a huge variety of spirits to choose among them.
On Sunday, towards the end of the festival, something called ‘borono con repinaldas’ is offered to everyone. As a local explained to me, this is a kind of black pudding and corn flour with apple. I am always looking forward to tasting everything, even if it doesn´t look very appealing, but regrettably, I did not have the chance this time. I had a long journey back home and I couldn´t leave without visiting the glacier of Fuente Dé.
Next time I go to Cantabria I will try this dish. It is a must.