Still going strong

From fermented fruit to brandy

National  

The day begins early for Heinz Wuffli. He's out in the yard before seven, heating up the boiler with the wood he has brought along himself

Once the schnapps is distilled, it is poured into these milk churns to be mixed and diluted to the right strength for drinking

The mobile distillery with its tubes, valves and copper and chrome parts is getting on in years. Wuffli has to keep his eye on the blue control valve and the pressure gauge all day

Today the mash is brought along in these plastic barrels. The customers provide the firewood to distil the fruit

If he can't be sure from the smell, Wuffli has to dip his finger into the fermented fruit to be sure that he doesn't let any vinegar into his still

The copper cauldrons were only recently serviced and the seals were replaced during the previous season. The pressure inside the device is about five bars

The presence of the still draws people to the yard. The farmers deliver their goods, lend a hand and have a good chin-wag

The mobile still consists of a number of different elements

Cherry mash is pumped up into one of the three copper cauldrons

Wuffli screws down the lid of one of the cauldrons. The pressure in these cauldrons climbs to about five bars during the distillation process

At the bottom of the condensor is the collecting pot with an overflow. An alcohol meter floating in the distillate measures the percentage of alcohol

Wuffli and Benedikt Schnyder. They chat about their work, farms and family

The still, or "brennida", in operation. When the mash is emptied out, everything is enveloped in steam

Filling glass bottles with the distilled schnapps (left), and detail of one of the still's many valves (right)

Wuffli doesn't have a computer. Everything is recorded and labelled by hand

Fermented cherries in a barrel before the distillation process (left), and what comes out at the end (right)

Depending on the size and type of farm, farmers have the right to a certain amount of alcohol tax-free. However, the amount has to be precisely calculated with the Swiss Alcohol Board

The alcohol is diluted with distilled water to a strength at which it can be drunk

Into the bottle, and off down to the cellar. According to the Alcohol Board, there's about 2.5 million litres of farm-produced schnapps stored down there today. Cheers!

 

 

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Heinz Wuffli has spent the months of January to March travelling around with his 80-year-old mobile distillery for more than 20 years, visiting farms in eastern Switzerland. At the end of January it was parked at the farm of Benedikt Schnyder in Illighausen in canton Thurgau.

Farmers bring along their barrels of fermented fruit, the "mash": first he distils the apples and pears, then cherries, and finally fruit with stones. This year there are no quinces - the harvest was bad. As for the quality of the final product, Heinz Wuffl says he can't work magic. The aroma of the schnapps depends on the quality of the fruit supplied. After tasting and smelling some of the barrels, he discards them as unusable - the sugar in the fruit has turned to vinegar rather than alcohol. And that's a no-no in Wuffli's still.

All pictures by Thomas Kern / swissinfo.ch

 
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