It is common knowledge that cachaça comes from sugar cane and it is the main ingredient for Brazil´s most celebrated cocktail, the caipirinha. However, when you see Abelha Cachaça bottles standing tall at a bar one can´t begin to imagine the intricacies involving the distillation process. Hal Stockley, Abelha Cachaça Director guide us through all the steps of turning sugar cane into cachaça.
1. What are the main stages of Abelha Cachaca production process?
As with many spiritual ideologies, we have a five-point plan for turning sugar-cane in cachaca; these are planting and growing, cutting and pressing, fermentation, distillation and then resting or ageing.
2. Starting from the beginning, tell us about the sugar cane plantation, its terroir and climate.
Abelha Cachaça is produced high up on infertile sandy soils surrounding Rio de Contas on the southern edge of the Chapada Diamantina. It is not as hot as sugar-cane producing regions of south Brazil but the temperature differential between night and day is greater. Both the soil conditions and this temperature differential contribute to the flavour and quality of the sugar cane that is used to produce cachaça in this region.
3.When does the harvest take place and what happens after the sugar cane is cut?
Harvest and planting occur between approximately June and October – as the sugar cane must be juiced immediately, this is also the cachaça -producing season. All sugarcane is certified organic so natural fertiliser is used and pork beans for nitrogen are sown between the lines. Because sugarcane must be juiced for fermentation within 24hrs of being cut, picking the correct order for the plantation to be cut is essential.
4.What is used to start the fermentation?
Fermentation is kick started for the season by an organic mash and from then on for the rest of the season a sour-mash technique, where some of one fermenting batch is taken to kick-start the next, is employed. We use natural yeasts that live on the local sugar cane, which gives the characteristic aromatic nose of Abelha cachaça.
5. Guide us through the different stages of the distillation process:
Once fermentation comes to an end (all sucrose turned into alcohol), this produces the cachaça wine, or vinho. We transfer this to the alambiques, or copper pot stills, in the next room in the distillery. These stills have a capacity of 400 Litres. About 10% of the distillate known as the heart, or curaçao, is used to produce the final Cachaça, so about 40litres per distillation. The remainder, known as the heads and tails, is recycled as are all by-products in production.
6. How long does it need to rest before the bottling?
After distillation a small dilution is made using water from the natural aquifer underneath the fazenda. And we rest the cachaça in large steel tanks for approximately 6 months before bottling. This allows some of the less desirable compounds to evaporate resulting in a far tastier flavour-full (!) cachaça.
7.Abelha Gold is aged in Garapeira wood, from South of Brazil. Tell us more about this native wood and its use in Brazil.
Correct – Abelha Cachaça Gold is aged for 3 years in 250litre garapeira or garapa wood barrels. In Brazil many different woods are used for aging Cachaça, generally because they mellow the feel whilst still maintaining the distinctive flavour of an artisanal (alembique) cachaça. Garapeira wood was chosen to age Abelha because the master distiller comes from the south of Brazil where it has been used to age wine.