Amburana (Amburana Cearensis), sometimes known as Imburana, umburana, cerejeira, cumaru-do-ceará, amburana-de-cheiro, or cumaru-de-cheiro, is one of the most important woods used to age cachaça. It’s found in several countries in South America, including Brazil, but also Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. Amburana has not just made waves in the world of cachaça, however. Brewers in the U.S. and elsewhere have found its impact on their beers to be exceptional.
Why is Amburana such a star? Well, depending on how the barrel has been toasted, the nose and palate that it provides cachaça are exceptional: vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, and a general spicy flavor. In Brazil, there’s a tendency to think of these as feminine flavors, and thus, Amburana is often said to appeal to women, in particular.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t think that’s true. However, that’s beside the point. Distillers all over the country want to use this wood.
Cachaça aged in Amburana cannot be left for very long. From my understanding, more than a year or two, maybe three, will overwhelm the product and make it undrinkable. Further, the barrels made using Amburana tend to be small.
A good Amburana is a difference-maker for cachaça. The problem now is that the tree is at extreme risk of extinction. Imminently. So, we don’t know how much longer we have with this tree. Besides being used for barrels, it’s valued for its medicinal properties and its smell, which is sometimes used in perfume. Even the National Institutes of Health have put out a study in the last few months about reducing respiratory illness and inflammation.
The point is that there’s a lot of competition for the last of these trees. We don’t know how much longer we will have them. It’s difficult to say that aging cachaça is the way the trees are put to best use, though the cachaça industry’s use of Amburana in and of itself is not what’s destroying the tree. However, it’s certainly not helping. And because of the precarious environmental factors (Amburana is found mostly in the Northeast where drought has ravaged much of the area), we may not be able to have this type of cachaça for much longer.