Shortly after midnight, a hooded, cloaked figure scurried across the garden of a rural hotel in Galicia, chanting as she joined a group around a cauldron where blue flames flickered.
Rather than black magic, this is a queimada – a centuries-old tradition for warding off evil spirits and witches. And in Spain’s remote north-western region of Galicia, rather than mostly happening on Celtic New Year’s Eve or the summer solstice, queimadas are an oft-repeated year-long tourist attraction, too. The last part is perhaps the most appealing for non-Galicians, given the fiery liquid that produces the blue flames is a mixture of sugar, coffee beans, lemon peel and an entire bottle of an extremely alcoholic local brew called orujo.
Very similar to Italy’s grappa, orujo is obtained by distilling the pomace (the residue from wine-making) in large copper kettles.
When used in a queimada, after the flames have died down and the chants against evil spirits are complete, the heady mixture is drunk.
Queimadas are not the only late-night activity going strong in Galicia: another is the summer rock festival. This weekend, The Undertones, for example, are headlining a beach festival in the remote village of Pontececo – starting at 1am.