By Julia Ritz Toffoli
Two weeks ago I went on a very short, very last minute trip to Lisbon for work. I don’t recommend flying to Europe for just a couple days, but the disadvantages—exhaustion, never really knowing what time it was, a very high plane time to destination time ratio—were overwhelmingly outweighed by the delights that I discovered there!
My mother was born in Lisbon, and while I grew up hearing stories about it, I’d somehow never been as an adult, so I was really excited to get a chance to visit, however briefly. And brief though my stay was, Lisbon is quaintly small, so I managed to see quite a bit of it in the day or so I had to walk around and explore. I also managed to come up with some first-glance reactions:
Cons: Everything is uphill! Spanish fluency, while helpful in reading Portuguese, is absolutely no help in conversation. Very fast drivers on very narrow streets!
Pros: All the beautiful hand-painted tiles! Hidden Art Deco details everywhere you turn. The bounty of exquisite seafood… and pastries… and sardines… all the food, really! But mostly: the wine.
Oh my, the wine. I’ve always loved Port wine, but there’s something about enjoying a (criminally cheap) glass at a sidewalk bar in a charming little alleyway that just elevated the experience. I popped in from wine shop to wine shop, lusting after vintage bottles selling for pennies compared to how much they would cost in New York. After agonizing over the choices (with limited luggage space, I had to be reasonable) I finally settled on a Tawny Port to bring home.
And then my eye fell on a beautiful Art Nouveau-style golden label on a bottle of ruby liqueur. I didn’t know what it was, but for only ten euro it was impossible to leave without it.
I chatted with the shopkeeper who told me a bit about it: Espinheira Licor de Ginja, a sour cherry liqueur made by soaking cherries and in aguardente (a Portuguese brandy-cum-moonshine). It’s a national favorite, and the Espinheira brand is still family owned by the fifth generation.
It also happens to be delicious!
While it’s meant to sipped, served in small cups with boozy cherries in the bottom, I wanted to try it in a cocktail. A whiskey cocktail of course! Enter Espinheira com uísque, or Espinheira with whiskey. If you can’t find actual Espinheira, substitute with another brand of Ginja.
While cherries might evoke summer, this cherry liqueur has a richer, more autumnal flavor, which pairs beautifully with the woodsy, caramel notes of the bourbon. The lemon and club soda make it more of a light, refreshing cocktail, but a more Manhattan-like variation could skip the lemon and club soda, and instead include a couple of dashes of bitters—essentially substituting the Espinheira for the more traditional (but not dissimilar) sweet vermouth. I haven’t tried that version yet, but it’s next on the list.
Espinheira Com Uísque
Adapted from Food & Wine Cherry Soda
1 ½ oz Bourbon
¾ oz Licor de Ginja (substitute Cherry Heering if you can’t find Ginja)
¾ oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ oz of simple syrup
2 oz club soda
Combine the Bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace), Licor de Ginja, simple syrup, and the lemon juice in a shaker with some ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a highball glass over ice. Top with club soda, and garnish with lemon.