Kervegant Chapter VIII Arak and Cane Wines

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Kervegant Chapter VIII Arak and Cane Wines [PDF]


Java Arack

Arak is defined as alcoholic beverages that are noticeably different from one another. Thus Ceylon and Malay arak are obtained by fermentation and distillation of the sap of certain palms (coconut palm, Arenga pinnata Merr., Caryota urens L., Nipa fruticans Wurmb., Borassus flabellifera L., etc. .). Chinese rice arak is a distillate prepared from rice, saccharified and alcoholized by means of a special yeast starter. The same name refers to barley and millet or barley spirits and fruit in Turkestan; the spirit of raisin or dates in Persia; in Hindustan, a flavored cane wine, etc.

Java arak, the only one that interests us here, is obtained by fermenting sugar cane molasses with rice leaven, the ragi, and distilling the must, so as to have a distillate at about 50°. Production of this product is older than that of rum: when the Dutch arrived in Java, they found many distilleries operated by the Chinese already installed, who had the effective monopoly of alcohol production in that country for a long time, as in other regions of Extreme-Orient, . Thanks to the Dutch, Batavia arak, in the eighteenth century, acquired a considerable reputation that has kept, attenuated however, until today.

This eau-de-vie, the best of those made in Java, was obtained by mixing 62 parts of molasses with 3 parts of palm wine (toddy) and 35 parts of rice. The rice was boiled in water and starter was added. After 8 days the liquor flowing from the fermented rice was collected, mixed with molasses and palm wine, and after one week of fermentation, distilled (Crawfurd) (1). Nowadays, they operate a little differently: they notably removed the addition of toddy. The process followed varies quite significantly, depending on the region and desired quality of arrack.

(1) Hist. Ind. archipel 1, 479, 1820.

At Batavia, a leaven is prepared by mixing ragi powder with boiled rice and, before introducing it into the fermentation tanks proper, it is gradually accustomed to increasing concentrations of sugar. Coastal arrack, the general term for araks made in parts of Java other than Batavia, is obtained by pouring starter directly into the fermentation tanks containing diluted molasses. Finally, in some very rare cases, they do not use ragi; the fermentation of molasses is obtained by simply adding unshelled rice grains (Vordermann).

Preparation and use of leaven.

[In past chapters I’ve translated leaven as yeast starter, but here is not liquid, but like a loaf so it makes sense to keep a unique word.]

Ragi is prepared using husked rice grains, dried over fire (sometimes growing to brown burnt), which is reduced to a fine powder and mixed with a number of herbs. The mass is then reduced to pulp, divided into rounded cakes and left to itself for 3 days, in a humid and hot place, after having been covered with rice straw. The cakes are then dried in the sun or, if it rains, exposed to a moderate fire.

Product preparation varies somewhat in its details, depending on region. In Buitenzorg, according to Vordermann (1), they take 3 internodes of sugar cane and roots of Galanga (Languas (Alpinia) galanga Stuntz). These materials are crushed and mixed with pulverized rice, then 3 cloves of garlic (Allium sativum L.) and the juice of a lemon are added (Citrus limon burm.). Three days later, the fibrous materials are separated and the remaining homogeneous paste is divided into small balls, which are dried in the sun. According to Went and Prinsen Geerligs (2), in some parts of Java cakes are placed during drying in the middle of fragments of rice straw or chopped rice straw.

(1) Tijdschr. V. Nederl. Indië XXXIII, 369, 1893. [My translation of Vorderman’s Analecta.]
(2) Arch. Sulkerind. Ned. India 1884. Med. 13. [I think this is a typo and should be 1894] [My translation of a later 1905 paper by Prinsen Geerligs on Arak.]

According to Eijkman (3), materials used in Batavia for making ragi are also rice straw: garlic, galangal, cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum Nees), ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc .), various kinds of peppers, carnation (Tagetes sp.), cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.) and anise (Pimpinella anisum L.). Sugar cane and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra L.) are also sometimes used. The most constant elements would be garlic and galangal. Some of these products act little by themselves; others, such as garlic, seem to intervene by preventing development of parasitic bacteria, and others finally, by bringing aromatic materials, such as galangal, which is used elsewhere in India and Russia to aromatize the eaux-de-vie.

(3) Zent. Bakt. Parasit. XVI, 197, 1894. [This referenced paper translated.]

Ragi has the appearance of small spheres of a greyish white, usually a little flattened, about 3 cm in diameter. Under the microscope, it appears constituted by starch grains between which are bacteria, yeast cells and mycelial fungi, the latter in the form of fragments of mycelium and yellowish spheres that are very refractive. Went and Prinsen Geerligs were able to isolate two yeasts from ragi, to which they attribute an essential role in the alcoholic fermentation of molasses musts, Candida javanica Berkhout (Monilia javanica W. and PG) and Saccharomyces Vordermannii W. and PG, as well as two fungi-mildew: Mucor oryzae Went (Chlamydomucor oryzae W. and PG) and Rhizopus oryzae W. and PG, which transform glutinous rice starch into glucose. Wehmer (4) found another mold, Mucor javanicus Wehmer, which does not saccharify starch. These microorganisms exist on the rice straw, from where they pass into the dough during ragi preparation.

(4) Zent. Bakt. Parasit. VII, 313, 1901.

Preparation of leaven is relatively complicated. It begins by thoroughly cooking grains of rice, choosing preferably a special kind of glutinous rice, called ketan. Cooked grains are spread in thin layers on bamboo mats and, after cooling, sprinkled with pulverized ragi by hand. The mass is then thoroughly mixed with a wooden spoon. In some localities (Buitenzorg), the mixture is left to itself for 48 hours, covered with banana leaves. But more often (Batavia), it is poured after a few hours in cylindrical containers with a perforated double bottom, which is filled to two-thirds and then covered with a mat. The false bottom pierced with holes allows the flow of liquid from rice saccharification by ragi fungi.

After 2 days, during which fermentation temperature rises above 50° C, the rice is transformed into a pasty mass, dirty white and with a bittersweet flavor, which is called tapé. It is this yeast that is used to ferment molasses.

(5) This molasses, which comes from Java sugar factories, is exhausted. It contains 25 to 30% glucose and has an alkaline reaction.

[Firstly this note doesn’t have a corresponding tag and secondly the alkaline nature of the molasses is a big part of why Batavia Arak may have been so unique. Rum oil may have been produced by extreme liming and fermentation at a pH that maximized enzyme activity.]


In Batavia arrack manufacture, tapé is poured into a barrel placed in the open and containing 40 liters of molasses, previously diluted with 4 times its volume of water. On the third day, the mixture is stirred and transferred to a larger tank, placed next to the first, also in the open air, and containing 224 liters of molasses diluted with 3 times its volume of water. On the fifth or sixth day, a new transfer is carried out in the fermentation tanks proper, which consist of two large tanks placed under a roof. They communicate with a dilution tank, 200 liters capacity, where molasses is mixed with warm water from the distillery itself. After the third transfer, according to Vordermann, fermentation tanks are progressively filled with molasses from the dilution tank; according to Kruyff (1), the following day 200 liters of undiluted molasses is added at once.

(1) Arch. Suikerind. Ned. Indië 151, 1909. [remind me to translate this]

[Kruyff may have been: KRUIJFF (E. DE). and the title may have been: De fabricatie van Batavia-arak. and most originally published before 1909. “Archief voor de suikerindustrie. This citation may be pretty key to understanding arak, and it wasn’t cited by Olbrich which is surprising. Kruijff at one time was chief bacteriologist.]

Density of the molasses must in the fermentation tanks is high: about 15° Baumé. Fermentation is allowed to continue for 4 days. Fermentation, especially towards the end of the period, is very lively: an intense bubbling takes place, a brownish-red scum rises to the surface between the rice stalks that float away and a honeyed smell emerges. [A honeyed smell may be a tell of rum oil and I’ve experienced it as a grape jelly smell.]

On the ninth day, supernatant impurities are removed and the liquid is poured into unglazed earthen jars, with a capacity of 10 to 20 liters, arranged in rows. The tumultuous fermentation ceases soon and there is a slight secondary fermentation, which lasts for 9 days. At the end of this period, distillation is carried out, while the liquid is still far from being completely depleted in sugar, in order to prevent acetic fermentation.

In coastal arack preparation, tapé is introduced directly into vats containing molasses wort. About 40 kgs of rice are usually used for 4,000 liters of must. Fermentation is slower than in the previous case, irregular and imperfect; loss of alcohol by acetic infection is more to be feared (Prinsen-Geerligs).

According to Went and Prinsen-Geerligs, alcoholic fermentation is the work of two yeasts found in the ragi: Candida javanica and Saccharomyces Vordermannii.

The former predominates in ragi, but as it develops slowly it is soon supplanted by Saccharomyces, which, in small quantities originally, multiplies rapidly and can ferment very concentrated sugar solutions in a very short time. When leaven is introduced directly into the vats, fermentation takes place mainly under the action of Candida, and the alcohol obtained is of inferior quality. The technique applied for the fermentation of Batavia arak instead promotes the multiplication of Saccharomyces, which becomes the main agent for processing sugar in the fermentation tanks. As the latter produces a much finer alcohol than the previous yeast, it would be the main cause of the superiority of Batavia’s arak compared to the coastal arak.

More recently, de Kruyff has observed that the essential organisms involved in the manufacture of arak are the Willia indica Van Overeem (Torula indica K.), which is found in ragi and tapé, and Schizosaccharomyces asporus Beijerinck (Dematium arakii K.), which is not found in the ragi, but swarms in the molasses dilution tank, whose high concentration can not be supported by any other microorganism.

The first of these yeasts is actively propagated in the early stages of manufacture, during successive transfers of leaven: it would act mainly by preventing the development of foreign ferments. Subsequently, it is in turn dominated by Schizosaccharomyces, which is the main alcoholic fermentation agent in the fermentation tanks and secondary fermentation in the jars. In fermentation tanks, life becomes difficult for the Willia, as a result of fermentation, because of the high concentration of sugar must, while the terrain is favorable for Schizosaccharomyces. The secret of arak manufacture is, according to the author, is during the main fermentation to maintain a concentration so strong that only Shizosaccharomyces, to the exclusion of all other ferments, can operate the sugar processing. This concentration is usually maintained quite high during secondary fermentation, so that at the time of distillation much unfermented sugars remain. It should also be pointed out that the must, as a result of alkaline molasses use, exhibits an alkaline reaction throughout the main fermentation, which further contributes to elimination of foreign organisms, so that the risks of infection are almost nonexistent. During post-fermentation, on the other hand, no new amount of molasses is added, the reaction becomes acidic and the dangers of infection increase.

[If the ferment is indeed alkaline, that is a very big deal. This even strengthens the rum oil argument. These would not be high ester rums but would have to be redeeming in another way if they were to fetch so much interest and money. According to Arroyo, liming and extended time under heat is a path to rum oil. It is also very strange he claims an alkaline reaction reduces bacteria activity because we hold the opposite today.]

In coastal arak distilleries, the ferment that processes the sugar into alcohol appears to also be Schizosaccharomyces asporus. Eijkman and Kuyper were able to isolate this yeast from the must in fermentation.


The batch apparatus used for arrack distillation is generally rudimentary. It consists of a boiler, placed on a masonry hearth and surmounted by a copper cap finished by a coil, which plunges into a cooling tank whose water is renewed from time to time. Distillate is received in an earthen cement tank, then poured, using an empty coconut, into wooden barrels. Some small distilleries are still installed in a more primitive way: the still is a simple boiler surmounted by a very high capital, whence the alcoholic vapors pass through bamboo cooled externally by a stream of cold water. Sometimes the cooling pipe or coil is passed through a vessel containing the wine to be distilled during the next operation.

Arak is collected at the average alcoholic strength of 54° G.L. Distillate which pass at the end of the operation are set apart and subjected to a new distillation, so as to obtain an alcohol of a greater degree. This alcohol is used to raise the alcoholic proof of arak intended for export to Europe and which must mark 60-66° G L. Caramel is never added to this spirit. It is subjected to barrel aging, during which it improves considerably by taking a slight coloration.

Cane Wines

Fermented drinks made from cane juice have been known for a long time. There are terms in Sanskrit, according to U.C. Dutt, for alcoholic liquors obtained from juice (sidhu) and cane molasses (gaudi). The natives of the Philippine Islands prepare with the cane basi and tuba, those of Madagascar, the betsabetsa, which was at a certain time (1883-90), the object of a rather important export (1,000 to 2,000 hl per year ) of St. Mary of Madagascar. Musanga is also a cane wine made in the Haut-Congo. The Mexican Cheranuco is fermented cane molasses, to which apple, plum or prune juice is added.

Finally, in the beginnings of colonization, the Europeans who settled in the West Indies and in the Indian Ocean islands made extensive use of fermented cane juice: flangourin was for a long time the main drink of the creoles of the island of Réunion. In the French West Indies, where it was known as the grappe, the product was consumed less, with preference being given to other fermented beverages of Caribbean origin; ouycou, obtained from cassava, and mabi prepared with potato.

At present, cane wine is little used, except by some primitive peoples, probably because of its cloudy and uncomfortable appearance.


The basi, very popular among the natives of North Luzon and the Batanes Islands, is prepared as follows, according to Gibbs, Holmes and Agcaoili. In a large boiler, with at least 55 liters of capacity, 53 liters of cane juice are boiled down to 45 liters. Once boiling has started, 0.25 mg of samak bark (Macaranga tanaria Muell, Arg) is added to give a red color and 375 cc. dry leaves of the same tree reduced to powder, to coagulate organic matter suspended in the liquid. During boiling, it is stirred occasionally with a samak branch and the foam removed that rises to the surface.

As soon as the juice is sufficiently reduced, the fire is put out and the liquid decanted into a 45-liter clay jar. After about 24 hours, after complete cooling, 3 liters of parek, a ferment consisting of a mixture of 1 part of dry leaves and 4 parts of dried fruit of samak, are introduced into the jar, all of which is reduced to powder. The container is then closely covered with samak leaves and buried in the ground. After 2 months, the basi, which contains 12 to 16% alcohol, can be consumed, but the older, the better it is. It is considered that to obtain a drink of excellent quality, it must be kept for two years in the earth.


The tuba, or intus, is prepared by some tribes of Mindanao. In the middle of a small iron hemispherical cauldron, usually 50 cm. in diameter, a cylinder is placed in bamboo slats of about 10 cm. diameter, around which are piled roots of lankawas (Cordyline terminalis Willd.), cut into strips and crushed with a mortar. The boiler is filled with cane juice and boiled slowly until the liquid has reached a sufficient concentration.

The degree of concentration varies with the nature of the product desired. It is sometimes enough to evaporate a quarter of the cane juice: it has, then, a drink of milky color and sweetish flavor, which has a very harmful effect on those who get used to it. In other cases, the liquid is evaporated to half. Finally, one can boil quickly until the liquid takes a nice hazel color and gives off a particular smell.

After cooking, the juice is left to ferment for some time, in earthen pots or, failing that, in bamboo bunches. After 5 days, the liquor can be consumed, but in general much longer is waited before drinking. The tuba, which is a few months old, is in the form of a clear, amber-colored liquid with a bouquet strongly reminiscent of rum. It is a palatable, non-harmful and exhilarating drink (Gibbs, Holmes and Agcaoili).


Musanga is made by the natives of Haut-Congo, according to Van Laer (1). The canes are cut, just before the time of flowering, into pieces 5 cm long and grinded with a mortar. The juice after sieving is diluted with water and left for spontaneous fermentation in jars for 24 hours in the shade. The liquid obtained is soft, slightly gaseous and of pleasant taste, but rarely clear. It can be drunk after a day in the bottle, but it quickly becomes acidic.

(1) An. Brass. VII, 240, 1904.

A sample of musanga examined by Van Laer had the following composition (in grs per liter):


“The usual way to make a cane wine,” wrote Charpentier de Cossigny in 1803, “is to let the vesou ferment until the passion of fermentation has passed. This drink is considered healthy: the Creoles of the island of Reunion make a great use of it and call it flangourin” (1).

(1) The same author mentions that a beer of cane was also made in Pennsylvania by adding to five pounds of molasses a half-table spoon of yeast and a spoon of powdered ginger, with eight pints of boiling water. After fermentation, it was diluted with 52 pints of warm water.

To obtain a drink more pleasant and likely to preserve, the author above recommends to concentrate the vesou by cooking or to add sugar or honey, with a little lemon juice. He advises against the addition of cane brandy, which gives the liquor an unpleasant taste, but indicates that wine spirits, “jam-rosade” (Eugenia jambos L.) or pineapple may be used to raise the strength. It is also possible, he says, to color it with the fruits of the “Judée vine” (Phytolacca decandra L.) the “brède d’Angole” (?), The “red racquet” (Opuntia Dillenii Haw.) Or with blackberries; and before bottling, to stick fish paste or egg white.

[Kervegant appears to have a had a little trouble with brède d’Angole and it was “Malabar spinach”. Red racquet appears to be a prickly pear. Fish paste would be isinglass which is a well known wine clarifier.]

A recent patent of J. L. Talladas (1939) advocates the manufacture of cane wine by the following method. The fresh juice is first treated with sulfur dioxide and defecated. Sugar is then added to give a density of 1.080 to 1.100, followed by tannic acid and Citrus juice. After adjusting the acidity with a mixture of tartaric acid and potassium tartrate, the liquid is subjected to fermentation, by means of a culture of ferments obtained by abandoning muscat raisins juice mixed with sugarcane bagasse to spontaneous fermentation.

Sparkling cane wine.

According to Pique, one could obtain, from the vesou, an excellent sparkling wine, by operating in the following way:

The fresh juice, after having been cleared of cane debris by filter press, an amount of tartaric acid is added (or acetic acid) necessary to bring the acidity to 2 gr. per liter, then nutrient salts (150 gr / hl). It is then fermented with a starter prepared from champagne yeast. When the fermentation is finished, 10 grams of tannin per hl. is added, previously dissolved in a glass of white rum, and 15-20 drops of caramel, to give a slight amber tint. If the wine is not very clear, an egg white or gelatin is added.

To carbonate, a sweet liquor is prepared, melting 1 kg of sugar in as little water as possible, adding 2 grams of citric acid and boiling for 10 minutes. After cooling, 2 liters is made up and filtered. As well, the champagne yeast is woken up. Each bottle (champagne bottle type) receives 40 cc. sweet liquor, cane wine and 10 cc. of yeast starter in full fermentation. Thus prepared, the bottles are ready for making carbonation.

In the presence of sugar, the yeast will cause a new fermentation, which will be completed in one month. The bottles, whose cork has been tied up, are placed in the bottom, in holes cut in boards, and each morning they are turned half a turn, until all the dregs are collected on the cork. At this moment the dosage liquor is prepared. This is obtained by taking, for 50 bottles, 4 kilograms of candy sugar, which is dissolved in 3 liters of dry white wine. When the sugar is melted, 1 liter and a half of cognac is added, filtered and let stand for a month before use.

To disgorge, take the bottle with your left hand from the bottom, head down and place it horizontally against the left hip. Cut the strings with the right hand: the explosion shoots out the yeast deposit. The bottle is carefully straightened and temporarily closed with a long stopper, before wiping the inner wall of the neck, on which traces of yeast may remain.

Dosage liquor of 150 cc are then added per bottle, pouring gently with a funnel whose beak is inclined towards the wall of the bottle, then one definitely closes with a champagne corks and wire. After one month of cellaring, a wine for consumption is delivered.

Sorgum and maple eaux-de-vie

Sweet sorghum (Holeus sorghum L.) can be used for the production of an eaux-de-vie with a great similarity to rum. Bobkov (1), for example, reports that the esters formed during fermentation of the juice resemble, from an aromatic point of view, those of the first fractions of natural rum. [not the greatest complement… first fractions are all junk esters.]

(1) Spirto-vodochnaya Prom. 1938, No 8.

J. Paul Roux indicates that sorghum is grown on a fairly large scale in the north of the Argentine Republic and is used for making rum. It would be the same in the United States, mainly in the Mississippi basin, where the plant is also called vulgarly “sugarcane”.

“The sweet juice of these varieties of sorghum,” writes the author above, “does not differ from that of sugar cane. The aroma of these plants is absolutely the same, either in syrup or in crystallized sugar. The rums and tafias that we get are the same, whether they come from cane or sorghum.” [This point is always forced and never proves true.]

Finally, the eau-de-vie obtained in North America (Canada) from the juice of the sugar maple was sometimes referred to as rum. (Acer saccharum Marsch).

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