The number of legal distilleries in Monchique producing medronho, the traditional Algarvean brandy, has doubled to 75 over the last six years, and is currently helping to boost employment and income for local families feeling the brunt of the economic crisis, according to a statement by the local municipality.
“The production of medronho is an important economic activity and each of the small distilleries are only able to produce up to 2,000 litres, so we are not in a position to guarantee production on a large scale,” said Mayor Rui André.
To help promote the sale of Algarvean ‘firewater’, as it is called, the municipality is planning to establish a Casa de Medronhoopen space where visitors can see the distillation process and also taste the product.
Made from the fruit of the arbutus tree, or the wild strawberry as it is known, which grows in abundance in the Monchique hills, medronho is largely a cottage industry, sometimes produced illicitly.
It is high in alcoholic content, ranging from 60% upwards depending on its source, and Monchique is regarded as the principal region for its distillation in the Algarve.
The fruit is normally harvested between October and December and ferments in tanks for long periods. The distillation process, which takes about four to five hours, occurs between March and May. Current production is around 20,000 litres per year.
A bottle of medronho sells for between €20 and €25.