The history of the toddy

The sugar cane appears in the Read more

The history of the toddy

Sugar cane first appeared in Cape Verde around 1490, when Portugal decided to cultivate it in its possessions off the African coast... Read more

The history of the toddy

Sugar cane appeared in Cape Verde around 1490, when Portugal decided to cultivate it in its possessions off the African coast. The first distillations of sugarcane juice soon followed, and the first traces of them can be found in 1504. These brandies were not yet called grogue, but aguardente de cana sacarina.

A small sugar industry developed during the following decades. Then in the 17th century, aguardente was used as a bargaining chip with African chiefs. However, it suffered from competition from Brazil and Madeira, and sugar cane cultivation tended to decline.

However, the staple is appreciated by the British navy, which is often passing through, and regularly takes it with them to make their famous "Navy Rum". It was through contact with English sailors that it took on the name "grogue", in a sort of confusion with the drink created by Admiral Vernon.

In 1832, the port of Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente, was beautifully developed. It became a major centre for international trade and many ships called there. While the good society sailors preferred whisky and brandies, the dockers and the small staff enjoyed grogue.

In 1866, a law was passed to tax toddy, with the aim of profiting from this success, but also in an attempt to regulate the sometimes excessive consumption. This attempt was not very successful. In 1941, an attempt was made to ban toddy by means of a new law. It was only half implemented and produced an even more harmful smuggling phenomenon.

A true national drink

In Cape Verde, grogue has become the traditional drink par excellence. Consumed during religious celebrations and family gatherings, it is above all a festive drink.

In the early 2000s, tourism was on the rise and the Cape Verdean diaspora enjoyed the unique taste of their island. The demand for grogue is in full revival, and the cultivation of sugar cane is picking up. However, this is not always enough, and the lure of profit pushes some producers to distil imported sugar. The quality of toddy then drops significantly. Its consumption even becomes potentially dangerous, as the rules of production are sacrificed in favour of profit.

This is how the Confrérie du Grogue de Santo Antão (CONGROG) was created in 2008. This association wants to promote the national drink of Cape Verde by banning grogue made from sugar. It also promotes good methods for distilling a healthy and quality product.

Thanks to the awareness-raising work of the authorities and producers, it obtained a law dated 12 August 2015. The production of grogue is now supervised and controlled, in order to offer a certified product that can be known outside the archipelago.

The production of toddy

The main island of the archipelago, in terms of grogue production, is Santo Antão. Cane accounts for about three quarters of the cultivated land. Grogue is also produced on Santiago, and to a lesser extent on São Nicolau, Maio, or Brava. Cape Verde is a volcanic, mountainous archipelago, so the plots are small and often terraced. Harvesting is therefore always done by hand, as mechanisation is impossible.

The most common cane varieties are Preta, a red and black cane, Bourbon, and Riscada, a striped cane. They are grown naturally, without fertiliser or pesticides.

The harvest takes place between January and July, and the cane is transported on foot to the "trapiche" (the mill where the cane is pressed). The cane is pressed without water, and without even rinsing the cane. The bagasse ("Bagaço") is dried and later used as fuel for the still. Some trapiches are electrified, but many still use the power of mules or oxen to operate them.

Fermentation and distillation

The pure cane juice in fermentation is called "calda". This fermentation takes place without the addition of yeast or acidification, and is wild and spontaneous. It lasts on average 8 to 12 days, and can sometimes extend to 4 or 6 weeks depending on the weather conditions and the nature of the cane. It is done in open containers, which collect the yeasts and bacteria present in the environment. It is therefore a pure local rum.

The distillation is done in an iron still, in conditions close to those of the early days of rum. There is only one boiler maker in the whole archipelago, so all the stills are similar, only their capacity may vary. The calda is distilled a first time, then the second pass consists of the brouillis (result of the first pass) to which is added a new portion of "fresh" calda.

Toddy flows at around 50% alcohol, which is much lower than most other rums in the world. The reduction required is therefore also very low, so that the toddy retains all its aromatic power.

Some distillates are aged to make "grogue velha", but the vast majority is consumed as is, and very locally.

Some brands of toddy are available in France

There are more than 800 trapiches in Santo Antão alone, but only a tiny fraction of the grogue is exported. Guillaume Ferroni, a great grogue enthusiast, has been to Cape Verde many times. He distributes brandies from the Tarrafal region, bottled under the Musica & Grogue brand. He has also selected grogues from the same group of producers, which he has blended and bottled under the Vulcão brand.

Luca Gargano, another great enthusiast and traveller, is interested in the island of Santiago. He imports the Barbosa Amado & Vicente through his company Velier. Read less

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