Drink Your Way Around Portugal

Staff Writer
A liquid tour of Portugal’s famous, and lesser-known, boozes

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Ginjinha:

Ginjinha is a liqueur made by infusing ginja berries in aguardente, the same grape spirit used to make port. The result is basically a cherry brandy served in a shot-sized portion for about €1 each. It’s said that a Galician friar left ginja berries in aguardente, adding sugar, water, and cinnamon to make ginjinha. The drink that resulted was an immediate hit and soon became popular throughout Lisbon.

Where to drink it…

Ginjinha is found predominantly in its home city of Lisbon. You’ll find it at little cafés all over the city, but for the original, head to A Ginjinha, a tiny bar at Largo de Sao Domingos in Rossio square. This little storefront sells one thing — ginjinha — and is the oldest ginjinha bar in Lisbon. Order your drink "com ginja" (with a cherry in the glass) or "sem ginja" for one without. To drink it like the Portuguese, sip slowly and then suck on the berry when you’re through.

Try it with…

Ginjinha isn’t typically drunk with food, but it does have a nice syrupy sour cherry taste that complements chocolate, so it is sometimes used in desserts, like in the heavenly chocolate cake dessert at Bocca in Lisbon. For a chocolate treat local to Lisbon, try "chocolate salami." Melted chocolate is mixed with crushed up cookies, dried and then sliced; the end result looks like marbled salami but tastes like chocolate and cookies. You can find slices at most cafes and groceries stores, or try it topping a cupcake at Tease, Lisbon’s late-night "rock and roll bakery" in the Barrio Alto.

Related: Ten Places to Get Drunk and Call It a Cultural Encounter

Beer:

The beer traditions of Portugal go back as far as ancient Roman times when Portugal was a province of the Roman Empire. Today, Portugal is one of the largest exporters of beer and is now home to several large brewery corporations. The word for beer in Portuguese is cerveja, and the two main brands are Super Bock and Sagres, which you’ll see advertised all over the country. Sagres makes a pale lager, an auburn beer called Bohemia, a shandy beer called Limalight, and a dark beer, similar to a porter, called Preta. They also make several nonalcoholic beers. Rival Super Bock makes a lager, a dark wheat beer called Abadia, a pils flavored with lemon called Green, a pils with red currant called Tango, a Stout, and a non-alcoholic version called Twin.

Where to drink it…

Beer is readily available just about everywhere in Portugal — in restaurants and bars, in supermarkets and shops, and in coffee shops and cafés. As is common in other European countries, you’ll find many smaller bars and cafés are "closed shops" when it comes to beer — they only serve the beers of one brand, usually Sagres or Super Bock. Just look for the branding, usually apparent on patio chairs or through window decals and wall signs, and you’ll know which is which. In Porto, you can get a beer in a bar for about €1,50, in Lisbon and at nicer bars it may be more like €3 to €4. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Bernt Rostad)

Try it with…

Typical Portuguese bar food includes sausages like linguiça and alheira, a smoked sausage made of pork, poultry meat, wheat bread, and olive oil, seasoned with salt, garlic, and paprika; deep-fried salt cod fitters; pasties filled with shrimp or suckling pig; and in Porto, the ubiquitous and slightly monstrous Francesinha (or Little Frenchie).

The Francesinha is a meaty work of artery-clogging art. A bastardized Portuguese version of the croque monsieur, it’s made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, and steak or roast meat, covered with melted cheese and topped with a thick tomato and beer sauce. Some versions also have mushrooms, shrimp, or egg and most are served with french fries for €7 to €11 each. After one too many beers, nothing will soak up the booze in your belly like a Francesinha.

Related: Travel Around the World Through Beer

Best Selling Beers Around the World

Portuguese Wine:

Not all Portuguese wine is port. Portugal actually has more than 25 DOC (or Denominação de Origem Controlada) areas of protected origin for wines. Two of its wine-producing regions are protected by UNESCO as World Heritage: the Douro Valley Wine Region and Pico Island Wine Region. Among the most prolific and well-known of Portugal’s wine regions are the Douro, the Alentejo, the Algarve, Vinho Verde, and Madeira.

The vinho verde wines, or green vines, are the most exported of the Portuguese wines. Not actually green, they are not aged, come in red and white varieties and have a light effervescence.  Douro wines come from the same region as port wines and have many of the same characteristics; they are often sold as table wines for everyday drinking. Alentejo wines from the south come from an area most known for its cork production but which has recently been garnering attention for its quality wines. And the Algarve is also known for its excellent red wines. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ryan Opaz)

Where to drink it…

You can find wines from throughout Portugal all over the country, in bars and cafés in big cities and small towns. If you want to tour the vineyards, it’s easy to arrange wine-tasting trips from most major cities. In Porto you can visit the Douro by train, boat, or car on a day trip. And the Alentejo and Algarve are each two to three hours from Lisbon.

In Lisbon, stop by the ViniPortugal (located at the Ministry of Agriculture in Praça do Comerçio) for a free wine tasting. A rotating selection of wines from different regions around Portugal is available for visitors to taste, free of charge (though you will be asked to fill out a survey) Tuesday to Saturday, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

A bottle of decent wine can be had at a restaurant or bar for €8 to €15, with higher quality bottles ranging from €20 to €30. If you stock up at the local wine shop, you can expect to pay just a few euros for a nice bottle of table wine.

Try it with…

Portuguese wines run the gamut from light and fruity to full bodied and rich, and pair well with a variety of foods, including traditional sausages and cheeses. And of course, you can’t forget the cod, or bacalhau. Cod is on every menu is Portugal, served salted and dried, grilled or seared, fried into fritters, with spicy piri piri sauce, and even with eggs.

Portuguese wines go very well with these traditional dishes, but they also enhance a more modern meal as well, as the chefs of Portugal seem to be intent on proving. Portugal has quietly been undergoing a culinary revolution as of late, with more and more acclaimed restaurants taking center stage in Porto, Lisbon, and beyond.

For a modern take on Portuguese wines that won’t break the bank, check out Bocca Restaurant and Bar in Lisbon, where appetizers like potato soup with red wine-braised pork cheek or carpaccio of muscovy duck go for €10 to €14 and entrées such as salt cod with butter-braised tongues, poached egg and violet potato foam, or loin and rack of lamb served on a bed of pumpkin purée, aubergine caviar, and shallot confit range from €22 to €30 and are served alongside the best Portuguese wines in an airy modern space.

Related: Other destinations to eat and drink your way around

Six Places in Europe You Never Thought to Go Wine Tasting

Pages