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March 22, 2012, 02:03 PM

Calvados still coming from France to Salvo Fair 2012

By Keir Lewis

French copper Calvados still, will be brought to Salvo Fair by Keir Lewis [photo: Kier Lewis

Distillery insitu [photo Keir Lewis
Still on a wagon that would have been pushed through the village [photo Kier Lewis
Mobile still from France {photo Kier Lewis

Berkshire, UK - Here is a photo of a large antique Calvados pot still originating from Normandy, which I plan to bring to Salvo Fair. It is approximately 3ft 3ins high, and 7ft 6ins long! It weighs about one hundred kilos. The metal thieves would love this one. At current prices it scraps at around 500.

The still would make more of a fantastic garden ornament than a practical object to use. A "Statement" is I believe the in word for odd rare mind-blowing pieces of this nature.

As for the social, historical and legal aspects:

In France all stills were registered with the 'Douanes' (Customs), and only certain people had the right to distill. This right used to be passed down from father to son, but the law changed around 20 years ago, and so now the few old boys who still have the right to distill are of advanced years, and are dying out.

There are still however all over France registered 'Bouilleurs de Cru', people who have a licenced still to use commercially. Thus one can make up a mash out of one's excess fruits, add a bit of sugar to up the alcohol content, and/or special yeasts, and then take this to the licenced distiller who will charge the client so much per litre for distilling it, and he will pay a percentage of his takings in custom's duty. Sometimes the customer will take along his own firewood!

As well as using fruits, the wine producers put the leftovers of pressing grapes - all the stalks, skins, pips & pulp - into containers, let that ferment, and then distill that into 'Marc', a clear brandy.

Many of the old stills were neutralised (rendered unuseable by the piercing of holes) by the Douanes when the owner lost the right to distill, but wanted to keep the equipment. The still photographed in this mail had been neutralised at one point, and has since been repaired.

Although I believe that it is still technically illegal to posess a non neutralised still in France, modern brand new stills are readily available for purchase in France, as they are in the UK.

A quick web search in the UK throws up Wineworks with branches in Chesterfield & Liverpool selling stills from 188.94, to the super "Turbo 500" a 25 litre electrically powered model producing 93 per cent pure alcahol in one pass. I quote from their site:

'It is illegal to manufacture spirits in the UK without a distiller's licence which is required under the provisions of section 12 of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 and this includes manufacture for 'own/domestic use'. Public Notice 39 - 'Spirits production in the UK' dated July 2006 provides further information about HM Revenue & Customs' requirements.'

Private illegal distilling was effectively successfully suppressed in the UK - rumours of it making you go blind, stills exploding, threats of drastic prison sentences, etc. and thus historically virtually non existent, with the exception of pocheen in Ireland.

In France, as in the USA, it has always gone on on a clandestine level. From what I can read on the web in both the USA and Australia it is on the up despite its illegality and is even becoming quite a trendy passtime, with a myriad of suppliers of equipment.

I think that what with tobacco smuggling, drug running, arms dealers, and all the other serious crimes (add on metal thieves since the rise in scrap prices!), the law enforcement authorities have a lot on their hands, and so running around trying to catch a few hillbillies brewing up a few pints of hooch is the least of their concerns.

I have been offered a considerable number of larger stills.

There are wheeled ones that would have been towed around from village to village doing the rounds of the clients. Early horse drawn, to more modern ones, some of which have been used up until recently, and are ready to go, others which are to restore, or as decorative items.

The second type are the big industrial ones taking from 1000 to 2500 litres a go which are built-in installations. These would require careful dismantling.

Prices can range from a few thousands for a wheeled one to restore, to many tens of thousands for an industrial installation. Some contain literally five or ten grand's worth of scrap, and I'd dread to think of the cost of making one new.

But that's the fate of our Western industrial heritage. As long as our children can all earn a good living playing computer games we'll be alright in our old age!

So if you know of anyone looking to set up a distillery ? The owner of a huge cider apple orchard who's just been made redundant from one of our erstwhile City institutions who is looking for a retirement project? Put 'em in touch!

[Salvo Fair is on 22-24 June 2012 at Stubbings Estate, Maidenhead, Berkshire. Keir Lewis has exhibited at the Fair for three years.]

Salvo Fair 2012

Story Type:  Upcoming Event

ID: 65467

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