My Round: Madeira mixes things with the best

Madeira is famous for fortified wine, but what the locals can really teach us is how to make a lethal cocktail

Octavio Sousa is pounding lemon peel and sugar with his
caralinho. The English word for this wooden implement, a basic tool of bartending, is muddler. In Portuguese, Sousa tells us, the official name is
mexelote. But
caralinho, the unofficial name, translates literally as "little cock" – a much more picturesque rendering in anyone's book. Which makes sense, because the picturesque features large in the setting for Sousa's Bar do Mar in Camara de Lobos, on the island of Madeira. Sousa is using the little cock to fashion poncha, a local drink with synapse-sapping potential.

Octavio Sousa is pounding lemon peel and sugar with his caralinho. The English word for this wooden implement, a basic tool of bartending, is muddler. In Portuguese, Sousa tells us, the official name is mexelote. But caralinho, the unofficial name, translates literally as "little cock" – a much more picturesque rendering in anyone's book. Which makes sense, because the picturesque features large in the setting for Sousa's Bar do Mar in Camara de Lobos, on the island of Madeira. Sousa is using the little cock to fashion poncha, a local drink with synapse-sapping potential.

How is it that once again I go to a place to learn about wine and end up in a cocktail bar? In Camara do Lobos, it's as easy as falling off a barstool. If you held your breath and walked out of the Bar do Mar, you would pass three other bars before you needed to draw breath. Madeira has a long and venerable tradition of cocktail-making, based partly in the island's colonial past and partly in local drinking habits. The colonial side is best exemplified at Reid's Palace Hotel, the most famous and exclusive on the island, where they serve Martinis, Manhattans and all the other classics. The demotic side is exemplified by the cheap, explosively fiery rum (here called aguardiente) which forms the alcoholic basis of poncha.

A traditional poncha, which is what Sousa is making for us, contains just lemon, sugar, aguardiente and some honey to soften the impact of the spirit. It takes around five minutes to make, unless you dispense with the little cock and use a food processor. At 2.50 (around £1.75) it is a cut-price cutie, Madeira's indigenous addition to the noble family of sours: cocktails based on the principle of high acidity balanced by sweetness. Sousa claims that poncha is the origin of the much more famous caipirinha. Since the Portuguese were the people who colonised Brazil, his claim makes perfect sense.

The Bar do Mar is not simply a cocktail bar, it's a piece of Madeiran history. It began life around 1880 as the "Maritima" general store, founded by Sousa's great-great-grandfather, and remnants of its past are displayed behind the plain wooden bar: an ancient coffee grinder, scales, battered storage tin with the words "Cacau Raja" in faded type. Sousa took the place over last year and renamed it. He has live music at weekends, sometimes performed by himself – when not running the bar, he's in the music business in London as well as Madeira. And while Camara de Lobos is still a fishing town, the Bar do Mar is cosmopolitan. Apart from those ponchas, the cocktail list would not look out of place in any European capital.

Cocktails are a part of the island's drinking culture. John Cossart, of the great Madeira house Henriques & Henriques, says that his father developed the company's bone-dry Monte Seco Madeira in 1938 in response to the threat of war. "Martini drinkers were worried that they would lose their supply of Noilly Prat", and Monte Seco was created as a home-grown alternative. Monte Seco tastes pretty good in Martinis, though I don't think it will ever replace vermouth. At Reid's hotel, the ultra-refined bar makes them the old-fashioned way – they're as good as any I've drunk in New York or London. Who'd have thought that an island off the coast of Portugal is a cocktail-hound's paradise?

But if I could only drink cocktails at one of Madeira's hotspots, I'd choose the Bar do Mar. I'd stick with the traditional poncha, rather than the passion-fruit version (delicious though it is) or any of their other variations. One of my drinking companions, Christine Austin of the Yorkshire Evening Post, described traditional poncha as an "alcoholic Strepsil". I couldn't put it better. I'd go back for another one any time I'm asked. *

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone