Being a dedicated fan of this sweet, herby Portuguese liqueur, I couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to go on a guided tour of the Licor Beirão factory. The event was organised for expats living in central Portugal by Dot Bekker of Portugal Friends. After lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lousã we headed in convoy to Quinta do Meiral, where ‘the liqueur of Portugal’ is produced.
We were greeted by the owner, José Redondo, who inherited the business from his father and now runs it with his own son, Daniel. We stood amid the clanking, hissing and whirring of the bottling machinery, trying to identify the scents of the spices that were mingled in the air as he began to explain the packaging process.
A group of workers stood at the beginning of the conveyor belt, applying gold ribbons to the distinctive green bottles by hand. Once this is done, the bottles are filled and the rest of the labels attached by a series of machines until they’re ready to be boxed up in an impressive display of hydraulics and automation.
This was all very interesting but what we really wanted to know is the secret recipe of herbs and spices that make the unique natural flavour of Licor Beirão. José led us into another building, past steaming copper distilling contraptions and rows of shiny steel vats. The smell of aniseed was strong here. In a small central room, sacks of spices imported from far flung corners of the world were stacked, waiting to be ground and macerated in pure alcohol.
José reached into a wooden box and pulled out a handful of coriander seeds to show us, then a handful of mint leaves, some oregano and aniseed. Whilst he was happy to tell us which spices are used, the exact recipe remains a family secret and is known only to José and Daniel. Every week, he personally weighs out the required quantities that are used to produce around 4 million bottles of this lovely liquid every year.
We followed him back to the main building and up to the bar / mini museum area where a photo of his father graces the walls alongside the history of Licor Beiraõ. I’ve read up on this already for a previous post about my favourite Portuguese drink so I happily accepted a glass of Beirão on the rocks and took in the framed posters from the company’s notorious advertising campaigns.
Hearing laughter, I wandered across to where José was having fun with a small wooden box. This time, he’s willing to share the secret with us and showed us the trick to opening it. After that, there was little left to do but stock up on a few bottles on the way out.
For more information about Licor Beirão, recipes for cocktails and the online shop, visit the official website.
For details of walks and other events in central Portugal, visit Portugal Friends.