A taste of the Algarve
– September 7, 2023 | Text Beatriz Maio | Photos Charlotte Cockayne/Open Media Group
It is in the heart of the mountains that some of the region’s most flavourful liqueurs and firewater are born, produced by a couple who have collected centuries’ worth of knowledge for their production. In this family, it is a tradition to provide for those who enjoy a drink at the end of the meal with the most distinctive flavours, a practice that started with the actual owner’s great-great-grandfather.
Jorge Lima and his wife Esmeralda, both from São Marcos da Serra, in Silves, are the owners of Regionalarte, a company that was born in 1999 with only three drinks and has not stopped growing since. At the moment, they have 17 liqueurs that stand out on the market, with something for everyone, even those with peculiar taste.
From the typical flavours of the Algarve region such as carob, fig, almond and honey to more unique creations like the Folar liqueur, made with milk, herbs and sugar; the Aphrodisiac, made with ginger, ginseng and pau de Cabinda (yohimbe bark); and the Devil’s Breath, with a spicy kick.
The range of options is wide, whether for a more refined or casual occasion, with cinnamon, pennyroyal and lemon liqueurs also available as well as a special one called Licor da Serra (Liqueur from the Hills ) made with port wine flavoured with cinnamon. But it doesn’t stop here. Jorge not only makes liqueurs but also gins, firewater (aguardente), honeydew (melosa) and honey. Like the liqueurs, the Caesar’s Gin, Hibiscus and Cobiçado brands are also exclusive products born from his creativity.
Many of the productions are a result of experiments, together with the curiosity of the owners, friends or customers, with special requests always welcome and enthusiastically received. The Aphrodisiac liqueur, for example, was created in response to the owner of an aphrodisiac restaurant, in Faro, who idealised a signature drink for the establishment.
From this order, two drinks were made with the same ingredients, a 17%-proof liqueur and a 42%-proof firewater. “People liked it and we ended up selling thousands of bottles,” recalled Jorge, emphasising that “the priority in orders is to provide a solution and please the customer.”
Currently, they are developing a special order called the Apple Fire, a firewater of apple and cinnamon, which will be exported directly to Spain. Companies and individuals both national and international appreciate Regionalarte drinks, distributed all over Portugal and even in the islands.
The biggest foreign buyer of these liqueurs comes from the Netherlands, after a group stopped by the facilities in São Marcos da Serra and sampled the drinks. Four months later, an article was published in a Dutch magazine about Regionalarte liqueurs. Also, the fact that there is a camping site, whose owner is Dutch, with about 90% of the customers also Dutch, means that many visit Jorge and end up buying bottles to take to Holland.
In spite of that, their biggest fans are the locals. “Our drinks have sweet and intense flavours, just as Portuguese people like it,” Jorge commented, explaining that “some are stronger than others”, but all are “great at the end of a meal”.
Another of the Algarve company’s specialties is the aged firewater with a woody aroma and flavour, after fermenting in barrels for about seven months – a meticulous process since if the fermentation time is exceeded the drink will have too much wood flavour.
This production differs from normal firewater by being more flavoured and stronger as well as by its browner colour. Because it is so unique, it is the drink that honours the owner’s mother, Dona Inácia, part of the 4th generation of distillers in the family who has always been linked to the medronho harvest and is therefore considered “the inspiration behind the business”.
The place where the liqueurs are sold carries history and feelings, even the decoration was thought out in detail. The wood used to make the shelves is over 100 years old – it came from the distillery of Jorge’s great-grandfather, grandfather and father. “It was not only a way to save and recycle wood, but also to bring everyone’s presence here,” explained the owner.
Therefore, it is a family business where everyone helps. Jorge’s eldest daughter, Rute Lima, with a degree in Public Relations, is the one who promotes the liqueurs at many craft fairs and makes their flavours known. “She has the gift of gab and customer service which allows her to respond to people who are curious about the liqueurs and want to know more,” commented Jorge.
In truth, Regionalarte was not meant to be a liqueur brand, but a craft brand, dedicated to the production of stone and iron materials for construction sites, as well as furniture such as beds, sofas and tables. However, the desire to make drinks that last a lifetime, even after opening if they are properly preserved, was stronger.
Although the present is bright and the future looks promising, Jorge revealed that “the goal is to grow, but always with the feet on the ground”.
By this, he meant that to maintain the quality of his products he will not produce large quantities “because this can cause the quality and essential characteristics of the liqueurs to be lost”, so he will keep producing through traditional methods in a small distillery. “We will do our best to keep growing. We want more and more people to take our liqueurs home,” he stated.
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