(CNN) — It’s tremendous sturdy, fennel-flavored, as clear as water — and in lots of households throughout Sardinia it is nonetheless produced illegally.
Filu ‘e ferru, or “iron wire,” is an outdated drink with a harmful previous and an alcohol focus of as much as 45% that knocks out even these with a excessive tolerance.
Rosa Maria Scrugli was barely 23 years outdated when in 1970 she was despatched on a piece mission to the small town of Santu Lussurgiu, set in the wild Oristano space of western Sardinia amid rocky hills and caves.
For 400 years, this place of barely 2,000 residents has been making a potent filu ‘e ferru domestically dubbed “abbardente” — a phrase deriving from Latin which fittingly means “burning water.”
The mayor — the town’s cobbler — greeted Scrugli at midday with a number of welcoming pictures, however by the time she’d downed the second, she practically collapsed, falling on prime of the mayor who was solely a bit tipsy.
“The next thing I knew, someone had dragged me away and I woke up in my hotel room with the worst hangover ever. The mayor also wasn’t feeling too well, but he was used to drinking filu ‘e ferru. It was my first time, and it was a shock,” Scrugli tells CNN.
Santu Lussurgiu is taken into account the cradle of the oldest Sardinian custom of “acquavite” — actually “vine water” in Italian, and indicating a premium alcohol distillate.
A secret code
The villagers have brewed filu ‘e ferru for 400 years.
“Acquavite and abbardente are just synonyms for filu ‘e ferru, which is a metaphor, part of a secret code invented at a later stage to refer to acquavite in order to escape police controls,” says Santu Lussurgiu’s solely (authorized) distiller Carlo Psiche.
It grew to become an “outlaw” drink in the nineteenth century when Italy’s royal home of Savoy launched levies on alcohol manufacturing, kick-starting an unlawful commerce that in Santu Lussurgiu continues on a mass scale.
Up till a couple of many years in the past police raids had been frequent, farmers needed to disguise bottles of their filu ‘e ferru both in some secret place at residence or underground of their backyard, marking the spot with a bit of iron. Hence the title “iron wire.”
In arising with such a nickname, locals might need additionally been impressed by the close by rocky mountain vary of volcanic origin referred to as Montiferru — the “iron hill.”
What has all the time made Santu Lussurgiu’s acquavite distinctive, versus these produced in the remainder of Sardinia, is that it’s distilled from wine, not marc, a spirit constructed from the residue of the skins and seeds of grapes after the wine has been extracted. It is due to this fact not a grappa — Italy’s favourite post-meal shot.
Psiche claims his Distillerie Lussurgesi, that includes alembic copper stills used for old-style distillation processes, is the just one amongst the 5 filu ‘e ferru distilleries in the wider area to make use of actual wine as a substitute of marc, or “vinacce.”
Meanwhile, households in the village have been brewing filu ‘e ferru at residence since the late sixteenth century, after monks from the native abbey launched this potent alcoholic distillate in the space.
“At first it was used for its medical and therapeutic properties, particularly for toothache, then people realized it was great as booze, too,” says Psiche.
Police raids and secret indicators
Santu Lussurgiu is in the hills in the west of Sardinia.
Courtesy Michele Salaris
Everyone in the village nonetheless secretly makes abbardente at residence. None of them pay taxes on it, apart from Psiche, who runs a enterprise.
Nowadays issues are much less dangerous than in the previous. After all, many Italians brew wine and all types of liqueurs at residence, and authorities not go knocking on individuals’s doorways until they’ve arrange a large-scale enterprise.
Psiche remembers that up till the Nineteen Sixties, when tax police patrolled the village in quest of clandestine producers, individuals would hurry to cover their bottles and alembics, shouting to one another the emergency code “filu ‘e ferru.” It was like a curfew sign.
“I was just a kid, but I remember the elders describing the policemen parking their cars in front of the town hall and wandering around hunting like hounds for illegal producers.”
Fennel seeds are added to filu ‘e ferru to melt the pungent taste, and given its intense scent, the scent of fennel oozing out from houses often helped the police observe down criminal activity.
“There used to be a village messenger whose job was to announce local laws, events and measures by trumpet. When the abbardente raids occurred he’d use another key to warn people,” says Psiche.
Italians and foreigners who knew of the secret filu ‘e ferru would flock to Santu Lussurgiu to purchase complete flasks of it, says Psiche, however they requested too many questions with the threat of exposing producers. So finally locals determined to go utterly underground.
The village had some 40 distilleries by the finish of the 1800s, when filu ‘e ferru had grow to be a preferred drink and was exported throughout Italy. However, the distilleries had been shut in the early twentieth century and manufacturing grew to become solely “domestic.”
Psiche, a former mechanic, determined to get better the outdated village custom of acquavite 20 years in the past. His abbardente, made with contemporary native white grapes, is available in two variations, each aged for a minimum of 12 months.
The clear-as-water abbardente has an intense enveloping style with a slight dried fruit and almonds taste, and is diluted with water from a close-by village supply. It is aged in metal tanks.
The amber coloured abbardente is as a substitute aged in oak barrels. The wooden maturation provides it a sweetish taste paying homage to honey and home made bread.
A feminine affair
Psiche makes use of conventional copper stills in his distillery.
Psiche’s artisan distillery options outdated distillation objects and an authentic acquavite bottle from 1860. He has a number of American shoppers in Ohio and Chicago, the place many villagers migrated.
“Our village has always used wine instead of marc because the vineyards over here tend to over-yield so the best way to avoid any waste was to use the wine to make abbardente,” says Psiche.
While males tended to the fields, filu ‘e ferru manufacturing in Sardinia was a ladies’s enterprise. Wives, daughters and grandmas grew to become consultants in distillation. At first, enormous pots of copper, historically for milk, had been used and sealed with flour dough to warmth the wine. Later, the women turned to copper stills.
Sardinians have a love affair with their “hot water,” simply as Neapolitans do with espresso.
Even although it’s nice as an after-dinner digestif, at any time when it is toasting time a shot of abbardente works wonderful.
According to Psiche, it is also a drink with which to watch dying: when somebody dies it’s customary to savor a glass of filu ‘e ferru throughout the midnight wake to honor the deceased.
Filu ‘e ferru is as fiery as the Sardinians who preserve making it at residence, identical to their ancestors, sticking to custom. They consider it may be drunk identical to pure water.
One lady from Santu Lussurgiu, who spoke to CNN on situation of anonymity over concern of being busted by authorities, says it isn’t only for particular events: “Those who like it drink it at any time of the day, even at breakfast.”
Making filu ‘e ferru strictly for private consumption, she makes use of an enormous alembic belonging to her grandparents that has been in the household since the Nineteen Sixties.
“It takes me half a day to distil the wine, which grows on our land. Other than fennel, I often add absinthe,” she mentioned.
The lady says she has now additionally concerned her son in the each day preparation of their home made filu ‘e ferru — maybe an indication of adjusting occasions that males like Psiche ought to play a key position in preserving the alcoholic heritage.