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Distilling gin in the cork forests of the Alentejo

Portugal may not be a country that's usually associated with gin but over the past few years, gin has taken a hold in the Alentejo, where the climate is just right. Gin is a distilled alcohol that takes its flavor from juniper berries, which grow in the dry climate of the region.

But gin is also made by infusing a neutral spirit with botanicals during the distillation process. And, the mild climate of the Alentejo is rich in botanicals, making for some very good gins that are earthy and dry with a deep aroma.

Sharish Gin, made near Monsaraz, come with hints of Orange, Lemon, Lúcia Lima, Erva Príncipe, among others. The more than 300 days of sunshine in Alentejo makes for a higher concentration of essential oils. The Arabic word Sharish is the origin of the name of the fortified town of Monsaraz.

Black Pig is set amid the cork forests near Santiago do Cacém, offering a gin that is dry with an earthy essence of its Mediterranean ecosystem. With citric flavors, filled with freshness from local lemons, wild fragrances from native junipers, the delicate flower and a touch of rosemary are in the essence of this gin. 

Junior Jacques Distillery is inland from Odeceixe, and was founded in 2015. Made exclusively with the fruit of the Medronho tree, Arbutus unedo, also called a strawberry tree. Medronhos grow wild in the dry climates, the medronho spirit is softer than vodka, more flavorful than a whiskey and fruitier than a gin.

Alqueva Lake Gin is produced on the shores of Lake Alqueva, the largest artificial lake in Western Europe and prepared exclusively by Master Distiller Marcelo Pinto, 30 something years old.

Alqueva Lake Gin offers a Gin Premium and the Gin Pink Premium, both flavored with Alentejo botanicals grown on the shores of the Alqueva Lake. They include Juniper, Coriander Seed, Golden Apple, Lemon Lime, Lemon Thyme, Lemongrass, Lemon Peel, Orange Peel, Clove, Licorice Root, Angelica Root and Cinnamon.

Ginbow Fine Spirits, Neighbours Premium Gin is a new Premium Gin, innovative not only for the manufacturing process, but also for its design. It is produced near Évora in Azaruja in an artisanal way: small batches, local botanicals, and the distillate is obtained by using two copper alembics made by local craftsmen with a long tradition of working copper. But, this gin has the particularity of being made to the sound of music.

When it leaves the condensing coil, it remains on a copper platter receiving mechanical waves sent by a built-in sound system. It has flavors of juniper, lemon and lime peels, coriander, cardamom, lavender, mint, Sichuan and rose peppers, chili, and some botanicals originate from farms in the neighborhood.

Then there is the Vila do Gin, a theme park where the star is, of course, gin.

Set in Vila Nova de Santo André, near Santiago do Cacém, the park just opened. The highlight is a distillery set on a 15 hectare estate. The park is a hoot for gin lovers, where they can follow the drink from its creation to the time they drink it. On the Gin Trail, where participants are taken on a 1 mile route along the estate, which is inserted in the middle of the Alentejo cork forest. Along the way, you can meet the botanists who explain the different aromas of the drink.

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