To the Heart of Brandy Making in Remote Villages of Maramures
This is intended for people of legal drinking age.
Leaving the village bar, where we sat with the locals, discussing whom to visit during our short stay in the village of Breb, we follow the road uphill. A shuddering horse drawn carriage kicks up the dust on the dirt road as it stops for a moment. A man dressed in white trousers and wide belt. A straw hat resting against his forehead. We exchange greetings and ask about a vestmaker. „Take the first left”, he says in a strange Romanian dialect, as the carriage start rolling down the hill, vibrating loudly, making noise and dust. Here, everyone knows each other. Breb is a small village with narrow dirt tracks, thick vegetation and old trees hardly letting the sun rays through, revealing old houses with massive wooden gates. It looks like an inhabited open air museum, where even Prince Charles found peace, as we heard at the village bar.
We find the vestmaker’s house but no one seems to be home. There is smoke coming out of a hut in the backyard. We can hear the sound of a cowbell. A man around the age of 60 (later turns out he’s 79 years old) emerged from the hut, followed by his wife. „I am the vestmaker, but we’re busy with something else”.
This is the distilling season. In the backyard, Tăut Ion and his wife are making apple brandy, locally named horincă. „When we’re making horincă, other duties are ditched”, he explains. It requires constant attention during boiling, so mr. Tăut has added a motor powered stirrer. „When I take some time off, I hear the bell ring and know that the stirrer is still spinning. If it gets stuck, the fruit wine will burn.”
I look at his artisanal distillery. Aside from the motor, everything else looks primitive. Onto a fireplace made of bricks and clay sits a copper cauldron well insulated with clay and dough made by the wife. Fruit wine is boiled inside for two hours, while the vapours travel along the pipes, down through a huge wooden barrel full of cold water.
Temperature drops, turning the vapours into liquid. The brandy drops fall into a container. First 5 percent of the run, containing poisonous substances (acetone, aldehydes, esters), is thrown away. For purer and stronger horinca, the spirit is double distilled. Just sitting around during the process can get someone drunk on alcohol vapor.
Fruits are gathered in autumn, mashed and stored over winter until late spring, when fermentation process is complete.
Long period fermentation is preferred over the fast fermentation with sugar addition, as the alcohol is less likely to give headaches.
Locals pride themselves on using organic fruits, which give a unique taste to the brandy. The drink is widely touted as a natural cold remery and a way to improve digestion. Drinking a shot of horinca before every meal is the rote of daily living here in Maramureș. Mulled brandy with black pepper and spices is traditionally used as a treatment for cold.
Mr Tăut march us in his basement, where he stores the spirits in big containers. He fills a mug of horinca for me. It is so strong I can’t even dip my tongue in it. „Drink it”, he says, I’ll give you more. I pretend I do. It’s so strong, a mouthful could put me in a coma. I get rid of it when he’s not paying attention. He gives us a tour of his home, showing his wife’s trousseau and the beautiful traditional vests they make.
Turns out the wife is the vestmaker. She taught him the trade after marriage. The vests are intricately made with some sort of metal spikes and colored tassels. We say goodbye promising we’ll soon return to learn the tricks of the trade.
VIDEO- Artisanal Brandy Making