Monte da Bica GIN an Artisan Distillery
Nestled away on an old farm overlooking the rolling hills of Alentejo, which more known for great vineyards and bold wines, waits an artisan stillhouse designed and developed by the perfect pair. Paulo Martins and João Oliveira, longtime friends who come from distinctly different backgrounds, complement each other like yin and yang to produce the harmony found in Monte da Bica. João, with a strong background in sculpture, had a space in Lavre, a kind of modern tavern, if you will. This spaced was often used by he and Paulo to curate various gastronomic events. Paulo, a chef by profession, is a bon vivant with a very keen, dry wit. Naturally, the pair were destined to craft great
“We have always talked about doing some sort of business together.” says Paulo. “The more we talked about opening a distillery – the more excited we got about actually doing it.” The goal was to express the area and also the special water they source for their product. For them, it was important to create something pure, something that possessed rich and complex flavors that constantly evolve on the palette. It is nothing that can be forced, and has evolved as naturally as their friendship. Paulo began his journey by completing a successful restaurant project in Chiado, Lisbon, and left for London to explore a new area and to learn the secrets of a great distillery from the great British Distillers that waited beyond the channel.
Upon Paulo’s return to Portugal, the pair connected with Alberto Pinto Gouveia, owner of Monte da Bica Valley, who joined them on the project. They built their distillery in a farmhouse, alongside beautiful strands of vines and fields of olive trees. Their first fruits included A 500L Portuguese copper piece, a water bath, and a refining lentil. The donkey brick stove, fueled by firewood, was built in an old stillhouse. Their very first forray into the world of distillation produced a fresh, more floral, spicy Gin; with citrus notes and 13 extra botanicals, featuring water from the property´s source.
The water source remains the same to this day. Their water comes fresh from the earth, specifically an ancient spring called Monte da Bica, which has been continuously providing water for at least a century. It is an ancient spring steeped in history. Pure spring water emerges straight from the ground every day, having spent the last 2 months filtering through the granite bed beneath it. “This is the source of one of our main ingredients, our water. We pump directly from the pool up into the distillery and this is the water we use in production.”
The color of the bottle portrays the vibrant tones of the water source. Their logo, a hummingbird, mirrors the graceful birds who make it a daily habit to drink water from this source. Drinking alongside a hummingbird has its own appeal, and Monte da Bica gives us the chance.
The Alembic on site was specially made for Monte da Bica, and was designed for typical Portuguese stills. It features a 500L capacity and works in a water bath. The still is wood-fired in a donkey brick furnace. It is just another reflection of the truly artisanal character of the gin they create.
As Paulo puts it, “We’ve gone for a classic flavor profile in making our gin. The main drive is its rich maceration, which resembles a classic London Dry style, with rich notes of juniper and complex floral notes.” A delicious list of other local botanicals typically found in Alentejo are added as well; such as coriander, orange or lemon, cinnamon, lily root, chamomile, orange blossom, lúcia lime, thistle, corn beards and honey. Even beyond this vast array, bright aromatics are created in the vapor extraction in the basket above; such as fresh lime and orange, and the brighter, fresher notes of juniper. The finished batch is deep and complex, and every sip shifts on the palate, providing hints of both classic gins but also something entirely unique.
This is due in part to their unique 3-step extraction process that comes before the final distillation. Each contributes different properties to the final spirit. First is maceration, in which the richer botanicals are steeped in high proof alcohol for 24 hours. Then comes a basket infusion, where brighter botanicals go directly into the basket located in the neck of the still, to deliver more pronounced aromatics. The third step is tea Infusion, where delicate floral botanicals are steeped separately for 24 hours at very high proof, before being strained on distillation day.
When asked what the most rewarding part of the job is, Paulo was quick to understand his message. “I really got into this industry to contribute something to the great restaurant and bar scene in Portugal,” he says as a smile creeps across his face. “Seeing our gins at some of my favorite eateries and bars and hearing the all of the feedback is very rewarding for us.”
So, what´s next? Bica has had a meteoric rise since their opening in 2015, winning numerous awards in its blossoming days. In addition, the end of this year will bring the release of a super-premium gin using some very exotic ingredients. If the memories from the first glass are any indication of what is to come, we can’t wait to try everything in store for this distillation duo.
Paulo Martins & João Oliveira