Just forget what you know about grappa. It is over-priced and delicious, but Italians don’t have a corner on the market for this white brandy pressed from grapes.
In Portugal, aguardente, or “fire water,” has a colorful past and is not favored by the social elites, to their loss.
Bagaço, the drink’s common name, is often consumed with a cup of espresso in the café after a good meal. A connoisseur can find fine bagaços in every corner of the country. To the south, try agaurdente made from figs. It’s strong, smooth and, after the first grimace, delicious. In the Beiras region, bee honey makes a fine aguardente that is strong, sweet and quite enjoyable. In the north, excellent grapes make a clear white bagaço with hints of straw.
It clears the head and palette. In Madeira, aguardente is made from sugar cane, and is not to be taken with a grain of salt. In the Azores, white grapes commonly produce a fine brandy that is not as potent, but full of character. Next time you are in a Portuguese café, ask for a “cheirinho” or “little sniff”--the welcoming white liquid that will be served up it a delight, and part of the landscape.