Cachaça Education Part 3: Fermentation

Cachaça Education Part 3: Fermentation

Two weeks ago, before I went on vacation, I began my exploration of the cachaça creation process. Today, I will continue this discussion, looking more closely at fermentation. 

We left off just as the sugarcane juice was being prepared to be turned into alcohol. Let’s remember here how important fermentation is: there is no alcohol of any type without the process. As Mapa da Cachaça, one of the premiere websites about cachaça says, fermentation occurs when fungus, usually yeast, consumes the sugars present and converts those sugars to alcohol and gas.

Their complete description of sugarcane juice fermentation is perhaps the best I have seen, so I have translated it here:

“Some distilleries merely allow local fungi to do the work [of fermentation]. But now, many others use yeast that is produced elsewhere in laboratories. Distilleries that do not use lab-produced yeast instead create a dense liquid composed of yeast and sugarcane juice. The liquid is formed at the bottom of vats, over 5 to 7 days, in conditions of intense aeration. The yeast microorganisms are fed daily with sugarcane juice. In this stage, microorganisms use the energy acquired from sugars for reproduction, and not for alcohol production. It is only after those microorganisms develop that they are used for fermentation.

After the dense liquid is produced, with a well-developed yeast culture, the 15 ° Brix (a measure of sugar) cane juice is added to the fermentation tanks. In an oxygen-free environment, with a pH (if you remember your chemistry, this refers to acidity) between 4.0-4.5 and temperatures ranging between 28-32 ºC, yeast can begin to transform sugars into sugarcane wine.

In the production of artisanal cachaça, the fermentation process lasts 14 to 24 hours and must be all-natural, without the addition of chemical compounds to eliminate unwanted bacteria or accelerate yeast activity. When the yeast finishes transforming all the sugar into alcohol, the sugarcane wine reaches an alcohol content that varies between 7-12%.”

Although this description of fermentation says that it lasts between 14 and 24 hours, I know that I found quality cachaça producers whose fermentation process lasted between 8 and 12. I couldn’t tell you what they used for their process, only that the final product was exceptional.

The fermented sugarcane wine does not have long to sit, however. Next week, I will continue along the path of cachaça creation, with an in-depth look at distillation and the differences between industrial and artisanal production.

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