[Cutting cane sugar in the fields of Brazilian cachaça producer Valle Verde]
I am recently back from a great whirlwind trip to Brazil, where there is a great brewing scene starting to really catch fire. And The Brewmaster’s Table has become “A Mesa Do Mestre Cervejeiro”, which is very cool!
WED NOV 7 After hearing the election results on the overnight flight, I flew into São Paulo. Our first stop was with chef Ronaldo Rossi for lunch, and then a beer at his cool little beer bar, Cervejoteca. After that, we had a beer dinner at the veteran beer bar Melograno with a team of Doemens-trained beer sommeliers.
THU NOV 8 I spoke in front of a few hundred people at Prazeres de Mesa (“Pleasures of the Table”), a large food conference in São Paulo.
A few minutes later, I was scarfing down some lunch with Alice Waters. USA was in the house!
Later in the evening, we had an event for 80 people at São Paulo’s usually-bustling huge Public Market. It was 7pm, and I’d never seen the market like this – it was closed, and we were the only people there. By the time we left, around 10:30pm, the market had woken up again, as people started to deliver vegetables and fruit in streams flowing out of the side streets. The dinner went until 1am at Rota do Acarajé, a specialist in acarajé, a very tasty dish from Bahia.
FRI NOV 9 We started with lunch and then a tasting at Aconchego Carioca with my friend Edu Pasarelli, one of the people who’s been most active over the years promoting the Brazilian beer culture. Then a quick flight to Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais to meet up with the Carneiro family from the brewery Wäls. After a raucous welcome at their bar/restaurant Serafina, it was time to go to bed and prepare for the next day’s master plan.
SAT NOV 10 We were up at 5am and drove out to the sugar cane fields of the high-end cachaça producer Valle Verde. I’d hatched a plan for one of our coolest collaborations yet – we’d brew a saison made with 15% sugar cane juice, which we’d crush directly into the kettle at the brewery. I called it Saison de Caipira. “Caipira” (from which the name of the drink caipirinha derives), means, broadly speaking, “country bumpkin”. It’s not often meant as a compliment, but it’s a badge that many people, including the Carneiros, wear with pride. We donned boots and shin-plates, and armed with old – but very sharp – machetes, we marched out into the rain to cut down some sugar cane. This sugar cane was special – it had a sugar content of more than 20%, as opposed to the usual 15% – and makes particularly good cachaça. We hope to get some of those same grassy flavors into our saison.
Cutting sugar cane isn’t as easy as it looks. The stalks have leaves all the way up them, and before cutting the stalk at its base, you have to get all the leaves off. One of the workers from the farm gracefully demonstrated the moves with his machete, a delicate motion like shaving with a straight razor. We weren’t nearly so neat, but after a while we got the hang of it. We piled the cane into the back of a pick-up and headed to the brewery.
The Brooklyn yeast had been sent ahead and was already rolling. We crushed hundreds of pounds of sugar cane, resulting in several hundred liters of a sweet dark green liquid called “garapa”, fresh sugar cane juice. We poured it directly to the kettle, and we were off and running.
In the evening, the royalty of the Brazilian brewing craft brewing world came to a party at Wäls, about 150 people – brewers, homebrewers, bloggers, friends, and a celebrity chef who turned out an amazing beer dinner, served with Wäls and Brooklyn beers. A great band playing. Miguel Carneiro and Ze Felipe Carneiro playing the saxophone, and very well. A paella about six feet across. A whole pig. A man loses count. YouTube says I sang “Hit The Road, Jack” – I deny everything. Somewhere along the evening, João Becker from brewery Colorado gave me a couple of pounds of tasty greenish sugar, another brewer gave me an alligator head, and I received five bottles of cachaça. Besides the machete that Valle Verde had given me, this was going to make for an interesting conversation at customs!
SUN NOV 11 This morning we were to return to Valle Verde by helicopter to see their alembic in action. We took off twice, but the weather wouldn’t let us get where were going. After a breathtaking helicopter flight over Belo Horizonte, we were off to a final big lunch with the Carneiro family. And then down to Bombinhas for a visit with friends, a few cigars, a shrimp and mussels odyssey in a small fishing village, and way too much cachaça.
A huge thanks to all our wonderful friends in Brazil — um abraço a todos!