Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Story of a Stolen Still

In 2010 a historic old still was stolen from the old Valdespino bodega in the Calle Ponce, a bodega which also once housed their Palo Cortado soleras, and which, after the firm’s acquisition and removal to a new - purpose-built bodega by Grupo Estevez - lay virtually empty and was by then Council property. The plan was to create a city museum in which the still would have been a central exhibit, but that never happened. It has since been demolished to make way for a language school.

According to experts the still was of considerable historic value, yet it simply disappeared. It might be suggested - and not totally inaccurately - that site security could have been much better. There was evidence of illegal habitation of the premises, and no evidence of security. Yet it would have required a lorry or a crane to lift this heavy piece of equipment which was three storeys high. It must have been dismantled and taken in individual pieces.

The still could be described as merely a hotchpotch of five metres of copper, a very large pot which made Jerez brandy, but it was more than that: it was beautiful with a sort of organic quality to its design very much of its time – the early XX century. It has probably long since been scrapped for its considerable copper value and is most unlikely to be seen again. Luckily there are photographs….

The still in situ in Calle Ponce (foto:Diario Jerez)
Distilling in Jerez goes back to the days of the Moors who introduced the art to Europe. While the Koran forbade the consumption of alcohol, they used it for medicines and perfumes – and sometimes in alchemy. Commercial use of alcohol goes back to the XVI century, and the first branded distillates – or “brandies” were introduced in the late XVIII and XIX centuries.  The stills used in the early days were simple pot stills, known as “alquitaras” or “alambiques”, not very much different in principle to those used nowadays for malt whisky production. The Valdespino still was a column still, however, a later and more efficient development.

(Information from Diario de Jerez and Sacristia del Caminante)

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