Monday, 14 November 2011

How to Make Your Own Booze

No this is not a DIY blog about building your own still and making puchine at home, I can get my friend Richard to tell you to do that if you like, he had a cracking business going when we were at university, but I digress. No, this blog is about how to make your own booze legally.

First, get your fruit and put it in a plastic barrel and seal it allowing the fruit to ferment for several weeks or months. About this time of year your fruit should be well fermented and ready to turn it into alcohol. But doing that yourself is of course illegal so what do you do, well you call your local travelling still owner of course (have you no imagination?) He will tell you where and when he will be in a village near you and you turn up with your fruit and hey presto you leave with a few gallons of eau de vie.

This tradition stems from the fact that viticulturists have to pay their taxes in alcohol, yes alcohol. They used to have to go down to the local tax office with several gallons of booze and their taxes were paid. Now it is a little simpler, they just give the nearest distillery the required number of tonnes of grapes and he sorts things out with the tax office. But of course this is France and so the travelling distillery still comes to town tax man or no tax man. Up until 1960 everyone who owned a vineyard could get the distiller to make up to 1000 degrees of alcohol free of any excise duty, nowadays there are few people left with this privilege, but the distiller still comes and will distil your fruit and you just have to pay him for the effort and pay the tax on the booze he produces.

This is something we have been trying to see for a long time and finally this year we got wind that our local travelling distiller was in a village near us and so off we went. You could smell the fermenting fruit and eau de vie from more than 100 meters away, so we knew were in the right place even before we saw rather inauspicious the sign. Not quite as glamorous as I had imagined, a ramshackle concoction of vessels and pipework cobbled together on the back of a trailer, parked in a muddy farmyard surrounded by old codgers testing the produce, but it was enormous fun to watch.

At the end of each session in a village, the distiller uses his still to boil up vegetables (cabbage, whole potatoes in their skins, carrots, turnips you name it) along with huge chunks of bacon and various other pig parts to make what is called an “Assiette Alambic” this meal is then enjoyed by the villagers on the last evening of the still’s presence in their village. We ate Bray’s version at Le Grange Finot the other day for lunch with enough meat (on my plate alone) to feed an army, along with soup to start, cheese or dessert, ¼ litre wine and coffee all for the princely sum of 12.50 Euros, now that’s what I call a meal Burgundy style.

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