Specialist stills for making the drink. :: J-L
“Una copita de Ojén” (a little glass of Ojén). The phrase is accompanied by seven musical taps on the bar. This ritual toast was heard all over Spain for more than a hundred years from the middle of the nineteenth to the twentieth century and makes reference to one of Ojén’s best kept secrets, its liquor. The prosperous business was started in 1853 by Pedro Morales - and then continued by his son Andrés - but began to languish in the 1950s. Kings, artists and even the Maharani of Kapurtala, Malaga-born Anita Delgado, were faithful consumers of the drink. Sixty years after the decline of the business, a Belgian company has begun to revive the production of the popular liquor, on Ojén soil and using traditional methods.
Dominique Mertens fell in love with the hills of Ojén many years ago. The story of the famous liquor engaged her so much that she decided to create a factory on the farm she had bought to make the spirit. Years of bureaucracy finally bore fruit in 2013 with the production of the first 3,000 bottles of an aniseed flavoured spirit, made from prickly pears, which was sold under the name ‘Aguardiente de Ojén La Giralda’. But then Dominique Mertens died and the company that she created with so much tenacity and investment is now in the hands of her daughter, who runs it under the name Dominique Mertens Impex.
The 2.5 hectares of cultivation is hardly enough to produce the first 3,000 bottles which were only sold in shops and the restaurants of Ojén. “We are developing little by little. Our production is completely artisan as Dominique always insisted,” says Juan Pablo Benítez , head of production. The work of the five members of staff the business employs is currently focused on the first production of a liquor made from grape pips and skins, known as ‘orujo’.
“Dominique worked tirelessly to create a drink that was as close to the original as possible. She went to Galicia to buy a still, she had a bottling plant made to order in Zaragoza and in Italy she bought the best glass to make the bottles,” says Benítez.
The new product has a unique characteristic compared to similar spirits (known as ‘aguardiente’) on the market. Its colour. “Traditional methods mean not going through the various phases of distillation to remove the colour. This will form our special identity,” reveals Benítez.
Ojén is keen to pay homage to a drink that made its name famous. To this end the town has opened a new Museo de Aguardiente in a room of the existing Museo del Molino. Information panels, old bottles and historic labels recall the spirit that was known by the Spanish Royal Family and even artist Pablo Picasso who immortalised it in his work, Bodegón Español. And, it seems, the new mayor of Ojén has not just inherited his job from his predecessor but also the few remaining bottles of original Ojén ‘aguardiente’, kept intact in the mayor’s office over the years.