Santu Lussurgiu, the Sardinian city with an alcoholic secret

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It’s tremendous robust, fennel-flavored, as clear as water – and in lots of households throughout Sardinia it’s 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Filu ‘e ferru, or “iron wire,” is an outdated drink with a harmful previous and an alcohol focus of as much as 45% that knocks out even these with a excessive tolerance.

Rosa Maria Scrugli was barely 23 years outdated when in 1970 she was despatched on a piece mission to the small city of Santu Lussurgiu, set within the wild Oristano space of western Sardinia amid rocky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 city’s cobbler – greeted Scrugli at midday with a number of welcoming pictures, however by the point she’d downed the second, she almost collapsed, falling on prime of the mayor who was solely a bit tipsy.

“The following factor I knew, somebody had dragged me away and I wakened in my resort room with the worst hangover ever. The mayor additionally wasn’t feeling too effectively, however he was used to ingesting 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.

The villagers have brewed filu 'e ferru for 400 years.

“Acquavite and abbardente are simply synonyms for filu ‘e ferru, which is a metaphor, a part of a secret code invented at a later stage to discuss with acquavite so as to escape police controls,” says Santu Lussurgiu’s solely (authorized) distiller Carlo Psiche.

It grew to become an “outlaw” drink within 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 just a few a long time in the past police raids have been frequent, farmers needed to conceal bottles of their filu ‘e ferru both in some secret place at dwelling or underground of their backyard, marking the spot with a chunk of iron. Therefore the identify “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 at all times 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 made out of the residue of the skins and seeds of grapes after the wine has been extracted. It’s 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 one one among the many 5 filu ‘e ferru distilleries within the wider area to make use of actual wine as an alternative of marc, or “vinacce.”

In the meantime, households within the village have been brewing filu ‘e ferru at dwelling for the reason that late sixteenth century, after monks from the native abbey launched this potent alcoholic distillate within the space.

“At first it was used for its medical and therapeutic properties, notably for toothache, then folks realized it was nice as booze, too,” says Psiche.

Santu Lussurgiu is in the hills in the west of Sardinia.

Everybody within the village nonetheless secretly makes abbardente at dwelling. None of them pay taxes on it, apart from Psiche, who runs a enterprise.

These days issues are much less dangerous than previously. In spite of everything, many Italians brew wine and all kinds of liqueurs at dwelling, and authorities not go knocking on folks’s doorways except they’ve arrange a large-scale enterprise.

Psiche remembers that up till the Sixties, when tax police patrolled the village seeking clandestine producers, folks 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 used to be only a child, however I keep in mind the elders describing the policemen parking their automobiles in entrance of the city corridor and wandering round looking like hounds for unlawful 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 sometimes helped the police observe down criminality.

“There was a village messenger whose job was to announce native legal guidelines, occasions and measures by trumpet. When the abbardente raids occurred he’d use one other key to warn folks,” says Psiche.

Italians and foreigners who knew of the key filu ‘e ferru would flock to Santu Lussurgiu to purchase total flasks of it, says Psiche, however they requested too many questions with the chance of exposing producers. So ultimately locals determined to go fully underground.

The village had some 40 distilleries by the top of the 1800s, when filu ‘e ferru had develop into a well-liked drink and was exported throughout Italy. Nonetheless, the distilleries have been shut within the early twentieth century and manufacturing grew to become solely “home.”

Psiche, a former mechanic, determined to recuperate the outdated village custom of acquavite 20 years in the past. His abbardente, made with recent native white grapes, is available in two variations, each aged for no less than 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’s aged in metal tanks.

The amber coloured abbardente is as an alternative aged in oak barrels. The wooden maturation offers it a sweetish taste harking back to honey and home made bread.

Psiche uses traditional copper stills in his distillery.

Psiche’s artisan distillery options outdated distillation objects and an unique acquavite bottle from 1860. He has a number of American shoppers in Ohio and Chicago, the place many villagers migrated.

“Our village has at all times used wine as an alternative of marc as a result of the vineyards over right here are inclined to over-yield so one of the best ways to keep away from any waste was to make use of the wine to make abbardente,” says Psiche.

Whereas males tended to the fields, filu ‘e ferru manufacturing in Sardinia was a girls’s enterprise. Wives, daughters and grandmas grew to become consultants in distillation. At first, big pots of copper, historically for milk, have 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 “scorching water,” simply as Neapolitans do with espresso.

Though it’s nice as an after-dinner digestif, each time it’s toasting time a shot of abbardente works high quality.

In accordance with Psiche, it’s additionally 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 because the Sardinians who hold making it at dwelling, identical to their ancestors, sticking to custom. They imagine it may be drunk identical to pure water.

One girl from Santu Lussurgiu, who spoke to CNN on situation of anonymity over worry of being busted by authorities, says it’s not only for particular events: “Those that prefer 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 within the household for the reason that Sixties.

“It takes me half a day to distil the wine, which grows on our land. Apart from fennel, I usually add absinthe,” she mentioned.

The lady says she has now additionally concerned her son within the day by day preparation of their home made filu ‘e ferru – maybe an indication of fixing occasions that males like Psiche ought to play a key position in preserving the alcoholic heritage.

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