Orujo production in the valleys of Liébana dates back to the Early Middle Ages. After grapes were harvested at the region’s monasteries, the grape skins were reserved so that they could be distilled to produce orujo. Today, this process remains deep-rooted in the customs of this part of Cantabria, as evidenced by this annual festival that was declared a Festival of National Touristic Interest in 2012.
The town of Potes celebrated the first Orujo Festival in 1984 on the second weekend in November. From 1985 to 1994, the festival was suspended due to Spain’s nationwide ban on homemade orujo, a privilege which is now reserved for legally registered orujeros. Since the festival was resumed in 1994, the prohibition has been relaxed for the days of the festival. Some producers are allowed to distill without a license on the condition that all of the orujo they make must be consumed during the festival and that it can’t be sold.
The Orujo Festival, which takes place against the backdrop of the landscape of the Picos de Europa mountains, has the Orujero Mayor as one of its central figures. Every year a public figure is chosen for this role and is charged with reading the inaugural pregón (proclamation) and playing an active role in many of the ceremonies. One of the main events of the festival is the Encendido de las Alquitaras, when the distilleries are turned on. Since the first festival, Spanish celebrities including Luis del Olmo, David Bustamante, Eduardo Noriega, and Carlos Herrera have had the honor of being chosen as orujeros mayores.
Aside from the sampling of orujo produced in the comarca of Liébena, the Orujo Festival also entails a number of entertaining events in the form of folk exhibits, musical performances, and conferences. One of the most highly-anticipated moments takes place on the last day of the festival: the selection of the Distillery of Honor, an award that recognizes the best orujo of the year, chosen after a blind tasting in which the main distilleries of the comarca participate.
Over the years, Potes’ Orujo Festival has become one of the cornerstones of Cantabria’s calendar of events. Thousands of people, locals and visitors alike, gather for the celebration to participate in one of the most representative traditions of Cantabria and one of Spain’s most interesting festivals of traditional alcohol products.