As part of a tailored tour conceived for Saucy Dressings by Live Like Locals in Lisbon, I was visiting Black Pepper and Basil – a kind of all-things-to-all-barmen comprising a school for barmen, menu development advice, bar design, and supplies of equipment and ingredients.
Ah, yes, ingredients. I asked if there was anything particularly Portuguese and immediately four bottles appeared on the counter in front of me. “What’s this?” I asked.
‘This’ it turned out is a liqueur made out of sour cherries commonly known as ginja, or sometimes ginjinha.
It’s made by infusing sour (Morello) cherries in aguardente (a very strong brandy, a sort of generic term for firewater).
What did I think of it (I was trying a ginja made in the town of Óbidos)? Well, I thought it was very sweet! I wasn’t surprised to find that in Óbidos, Ginja is commonly served in a small chocolate cup….also not surprisingly, it tasted a bit like cherry brandy. Was there a touch of cinnamon in it? No, I was told, all the taste comes from the fruit.
A fifth bottle was produced with something of a flourish. Again, what did I think of it? I thought it was a bit more complex…it had something more to it. This was the right answer.
“This one comes from a village called Alcobaça. It’s the real McCoy, the real deal. A very special type of cherry grows here, which does not grow anywhere else.” And, it was true, this ginja was a little less sweet than the others, and there was a nutty taste…as if of the stone. This MSR ginja, rather more expensive than the others (19 euros for a smaller bottle than the others, all more or less 14 euros), was definitely the best.
You can try a shot of ginja at Ginjinha, a specialist tavern in Rossio Square in Lisbon. They will serve it with a sour cherry dropped into it; or, Óbidos-style, poured into a chocolate cup. The address is Largo Sâo Domingo 8, Rossio.
Alternatively try it, as suggested by Olga Brit, head bartender at Decadence in Lisbon, by making an Old Fashioned with just a twist of ginja. Follow this link for how to do that.