Cachaça Education, Part 4: Distillation

Cachaça Education, Part 4: Distillation

Last week we discussed the fermentation process. Today, we move on to distillation.

Once there is sugarcane wine, as some call it, the distiller has what is needed to create their distillate. The point of this process is to concentrate the alcohol, thereby raising the Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Most small distilleries use pot stills to produce their cachaça. Larger, industrial distilleries will, mostly, use column stills, though they may have pot stills to make some of their smaller batch products.

Distillation occurs when the sugarcane wine is heated and turned into vapor. Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, so the alcohol in the sugarcane wine is quickly converted into vapor. That vapor gets captured and turned back into a liquid. However, not all that liquid is equal. And therein lies much of the difference between small-batch and industrially produced cachaça.

In the small-batch production process, distillers look to get what they call the heart of the liquid, which gets produced during the middle of the distillation process. The first liquid produced usually does not have the ABV to be used in cachaça. The heart, which comes next, does. On the other hand, the head, which is last out, has the most alcohol. It is not used because it has been shown to have negative health effects.

Industrially produced cachaça uses everything. There is no differentiation between these three parts and no effort to remove the part, which is bad for you. What most people who pay attention to the production process know is that if you consume only industrially produced cachaça distilled in column stills, you are more likely to have adverse health problems.

This point in the process, where the heart gets collected, is important. The best distillers constantly monitor during distillation so they can ensure they get only the heart. Sloppy distillers may not undertake such monitoring, and therefore, end up creating products that are bad for you if consumed regularly over the long-term.

Using pot stills is not easy. And with so many distilleries producing cachaça here in Brazil, you can be sure that not all of them are top-notch. But many of them are. And for most people consuming cachaça regularly, it’s obvious which distilleries closely monitor their production and which don’t.

Next week, I’ll talk about what happens to cachaça after it is distilled.

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