Ginjinha: Lisbon’s answer to Port Wine

While most people have heard not only heard of Port wine, they’ve probably already tried it, very few people are aware of Ginjinha. Ginjinha or Ginja is Lisbon’s answer to Port wine, and probably not something that you’d ever come across outside of Portugal. Although Port is exported all over the world, it’s rare to see shops selling Ginjinha outside of Portugal.

Ginjinha is a Portuguese liqueur that’s made from combining aguardente and ginja berries, a sour type of cherry that’s known in English as a Morello Cherry. The ginja berries are usually harvested around June, and are combined with water, cinnamon, and sugar and then left to infuse in the aguardente for around 5 months.

Francisco Espinheira, a Galician friar at the church of Santo António de Lisboa is credited with discovering the recipe. The owner of what’s now A Ginjinha, a small bar near the church, saw the commercial opportunity the drink had and began selling it.

Naturally, a lot of other businessmen saw the success A Ginjinha was having and wanted in. In the years that followed, several other Ginjinha bars opened, including Ginjinha Sem Rival and Ginjinha Rubi.

Óbidos and Alcobaça, two of the main towns where ginja berries are grown, saw the success Lisbon was having with Ginjinha and ever since have been trying to capitalise on it. Both claim that they’re the original place that ginja berries were grown: Alcobaça claims it taught farming to the people of Óbidos and that’s where they learnt it. Although neither of the two towns have taken much business away from Lisbon, Óbidos has probably been more successful than Alcobaça. Óbidos came up with the idea of serving Ginjinha in edible chocolate cups, which proved a huge hit in both Óbidos and Lisbon.

Traditionally, however, Ginjinha is drunk in a cup. Usually this is a glass cup, although there’s a good chance you’ll be served in a plastic cup. This is because Ginjinha bars are typically very small, and most people drink their Ginjinha outside. A lot of people like to hold onto their glass as a souvenir of their trip to Lisbon, which has prompted many bar owners to switch to plastic cups.

Tips for ordering Ginjinha

Com elas ou sem elas?

When ordering a glass of Ginjinha, you’ll probably be asked “Com elas ou sem elas?” This means with the cherry or without. It’s fun to suck on the cherry, and most people say “com elas.”

What do I do with the stone?

The cherry stones are traditionally spat out on the street, and you’ll find the ground is quite sticky just outside of the Ginjinha bar. If you don’t want to do this, you can discretely spit it back into your cup.

What time of day can I drink Ginjinha?

You can order a Ginjinha at anytime of day, from morning to night, and there is no cultural rule as to when it’s okay to have a glass. Some Portuguese people do drink it in the morning, but many also drink beer, wine, and even Medronho (also made from Aguardente) in the morning. Ginjinha has an ABV of around 18%, which is much lower than the 45-50% ABV Medronho typically has.

Where to try Ginjinha

Although you’ll find Ginjinha in almost any bar or supermarket in Portugal, it’s most common in Lisbon, Alcobaça, and Óbidos.

Lisbon

  • A Ginjinha/ Ginjinha Espinheira: Largo São Domingos 8, 1100-201 Lisboa, Portugal (map)
  • Ginjinha Sem Rival/Eduardino: R. Portas de Santo Antão 7, 1150-268 Lisboa, Portugal (map)
  • Ginginha do Carmo: Calçada do Carmo 37, 1200-016 Lisboa, Portugal (map)
  • Ginjinha Rubi: R. Barros Queirós 27, 1150-049 Lisboa, Portugal (map)
  • A Tendinha do Rossio: Praça Dom Pedro IV 6, 1100-200 Lisboa, Portugal (map)

Where to get Ginjinha outside of Portugal

Finding Ginjinha outside of Portugal can be difficult, but it’s not completely impossible.

  • UKAmazon.co.uk is a good starting point. They have Mariquinhas Ginja De Obidos and Ginja Espinheira.
  • USALaurenti Wines in a good option, as they have both the Obidos Oppidum Ginja and the Espinheira Liqueur Ginja. If they’re out of stock, try WTfinewine.com.
  • Australia: Finding Ginja in Australia seems very difficult. Petersham Liquor Mart usually has at least one brand in stock, but otherwise it can be very difficult to find.

Have you tried Ginjinha? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below. 

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