It’s tremendous sturdy, fennel-flavored, as clear as water — and in quite a few homes across Sardinia it’s still manufactured illegally.
Filu ‘e ferru, or “iron wire,” is an aged consume with a harmful earlier and an liquor focus of up to 45% that knocks out even people with a higher tolerance.
Rosa Maria Scrugli was hardly 23 years previous when in 1970 she was despatched on a get the job done mission to the tiny town of Santu Lussurgiu, established in the wild Oristano space of western Sardinia amid rocky hills and caves.
For 400 a long time, this area of hardly 2,000 inhabitants has been producing a strong filu ‘e ferru regionally dubbed “abbardente” — a word deriving from Latin which fittingly suggests “burning water.”
The mayor — the town’s cobbler — greeted Scrugli at midday with numerous welcoming pictures, but by the time she’d downed the next, she practically collapsed, slipping on best of the mayor who was only a little bit tipsy.
“The subsequent matter I understood, a person had dragged me absent and I woke up in my lodge room with the worst hangover at any time. The mayor also wasn’t experience way too effectively, but he was made use of to drinking filu ‘e ferru. It was my 1st time, and it was a shock,” Scrugli tells HPN.
Santu Lussurgiu is thought of the cradle of the oldest Sardinian tradition of “acquavite” — actually “vine drinking water” in Italian, and indicating a top quality liquor distillate.
A top secret code
The villagers have brewed filu ‘e ferru for 400 a long time.
“Acquavite and abbardente are just synonyms for filu ‘e ferru, which is a metaphor, portion of a solution code invented at a later stage to refer to acquavite in get to escape law enforcement controls,” says Santu Lussurgiu’s only (authorized) distiller Carlo Psiche.
It became an “outlaw” drink in the 19th century when Italy’s royal house of Savoy launched levies on alcoholic beverages manufacturing, kick-starting off an illegal trade that in Santu Lussurgiu carries on on a mass scale.
Up until a couple decades ago police raids have been recurrent, farmers experienced to cover bottles of their filu ‘e ferru either in some magic formula put at property or underground in their backyard, marking the spot with a piece of iron. As a result the identify “iron wire.”
In coming up with such a nickname, locals may possibly have also been encouraged by the nearby rocky mountain range of volcanic origin termed Montiferru — the “iron hill.”
What has constantly manufactured Santu Lussurgiu’s acquavite outstanding, as opposed to all those produced in the rest of Sardinia, is that it is distilled from wine, not marc, a spirit manufactured from the residue of the skins and seeds of grapes immediately after the wine has been extracted. It is consequently not a grappa — Italy’s favourite submit-food shot.
Psiche statements his Distillerie Lussurgesi, showcasing alembic copper stills utilized for previous-design distillation processes, is the only one between the 5 filu ‘e ferru distilleries in the wider area to use authentic wine as a substitute of marc, or “vinacce.”
Meanwhile, families in the village have been brewing filu ‘e ferru at residence due to the fact the late 16th century, just after monks from the regional abbey launched this strong alcoholic distillate in the place.
“At to start with it was utilised for its healthcare and therapeutic attributes, specifically for toothache, then persons understood it was good as booze, way too,” states Psiche.
Police raids and mystery signals
Santu Lussurgiu is in the hills in the west of Sardinia.
Courtesy Michele Salaris
Anyone in the village nonetheless secretly tends to make abbardente at residence. None of them pay out taxes on it, besides for Psiche, who runs a business enterprise.
Presently issues are fewer dangerous than in the earlier. After all, lots of Italians brew wine and all kinds of liqueurs at residence, and authorities no longer go knocking on people’s doorways except if they have established up a large-scale small business.
Psiche remembers that up right up until the 1960s, when tax law enforcement patrolled the village in search of clandestine producers, folks would hurry to hide their bottles and alembics, shouting to just about every other the emergency code “filu ‘e ferru.” It was like a curfew signal.
“I was just a child, but I bear in mind the elders describing the policemen parking their automobiles in entrance of the city corridor and wandering around searching like hounds for unlawful producers.”
Fennel seeds are included to filu ‘e ferru to soften the pungent flavor, and given its intensive scent, the odor of fennel oozing out from houses often assisted the law enforcement track down illegal action.
“There applied to be a village messenger whose occupation was to announce local legislation, functions and steps by trumpet. When the abbardente raids occurred he’d use one more essential to warn people,” claims Psiche.
Italians and foreigners who knew of the solution filu ‘e ferru would flock to Santu Lussurgiu to buy full flasks of it, claims Psiche, but they asked way too several issues with the chance of exposing producers. So at some point locals made the decision to go totally underground.
The village had some 40 distilleries by the stop of the 1800s, when filu ‘e ferru experienced develop into a well known consume and was exported throughout Italy. However, the distilleries were being shut in the early 20th century and production turned solely “domestic.”
Psiche, a former mechanic, made the decision to get well the aged village tradition of acquavite 20 decades back. His abbardente, manufactured with fresh new regional white grapes, comes in two variations, both of those aged for at the very least 12 months.
The apparent-as-h2o abbardente has an intense enveloping flavor with a slight dried fruit and almonds taste, and is diluted with water from a nearby village source. It is aged in metal tanks.
The amber coloured abbardente is in its place aged in oak barrels. The wooden maturation presents it a sweetish flavor reminiscent of honey and handmade bread.
A feminine affair
Psiche makes use of traditional copper stills in his distillery.
Psiche’s artisan distillery functions outdated distillation objects and an primary acquavite bottle from 1860. He has numerous American purchasers in Ohio and Chicago, wherever many villagers migrated.
“Our village has normally utilised wine alternatively of marc due to the fact the vineyards in excess of here tend to about-produce so the most effective way to stay away from any squander was to use the wine to make abbardente,” suggests Psiche.
When adult males tended to the fields, filu ‘e ferru creation in Sardinia was a women’s enterprise. Wives, daughters and grandmas grew to become authorities in distillation. At 1st, huge pots of copper, ordinarily for milk, ended up applied and sealed with flour dough to warmth the wine. Later, the girls turned to copper stills.
Sardinians have a love affair with their “scorching drinking water,” just as Neapolitans do with coffee.
Even while it is fantastic as an soon after-meal digestif, any time it’s toasting time a shot of abbardente will work good.
In accordance to Psiche, it really is also a drink with which to observe demise: when another person dies it is customary to savor a glass of filu ‘e ferru in the course of the midnight wake to honor the deceased.
Filu ‘e ferru is as fiery as the Sardinians who continue to keep creating it at property, just like their ancestors, sticking to custom. They believe that it can be drunk just like pure drinking water.
One woman from Santu Lussurgiu, who spoke to HPN on affliction of anonymity around dread of currently being busted by authorities, claims it can be not just for particular instances: “Individuals who like it drink it at any time of the working day, even at breakfast.”
Making filu ‘e ferru strictly for individual consumption, she uses a massive alembic belonging to her grandparents that has been in the family members given that the 1960s.
“It will take me 50 percent a working day to distil the wine, which grows on our land. Other than fennel, I usually add absinthe,” she claimed.
The girl states she has now also included her son in the each day preparation of their selfmade filu ‘e ferru — maybe a signal of transforming times that adult males like Psiche need to perform a crucial purpose in preserving the alcoholic heritage.