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Photo above courtesy of Stella Harpley

Cape Verde Drink, Cape Verde Tobacco

Natural and inexpensive rum from Santa Antao

Sugar cane,was brought to Cape Verde from the Caribbean and was cultivated by slaves as a cash crop for export. The word grogue is from the English grog used by the Royal Navy.. In 1740 Admiral Vernon decided to water down the navy's rum. Needless to say, the sailors weren't too pleased and called Admiral Vernon, Old Grog, after the stiff wool grogram coats he wore. The term "grog" soon began to mean the watered down drink itself. When you were drunk on this grog, you were "groggy", a word still in use today. Grog or Pusser`s rum is still produced also in Guyana,Ttrinidad and the British Virgin Islands although the Royal Navy no longer provides a free ration on ships.

Admiral Vernon's actual instruction about grog is contained in an order from the West Indies flagship HMS Burford at Port Royal, Jamaica, 30 August, 1840; it directs that the daily allowance of 1 pint rum per man is to be mixed with a quart of water 'in one scuttled butt kept for that purpose, and to be done upon deck, in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch, who is to see that no man is cheated of his proper allowance'. (A scuttled butt is a barrel with one end removed).

Although procured for sale to the British fleet the Portuguese colonial authorities feared the imact on the slave population and later banned production. Most was then produced as moonshine , illicitly, from which much of the current distilleries owe their origin..

Much artisanal grogue was and still is produced under simple conditions. distilled in an old oil drum, and the spirit collected in a tin can.. Grogue is something close to the hearts of many Cape Verdeans – an invitation to share a glass in a remote village is not something to be turned down. The drink is an important part of Cabo Verdean culture to the extent that the pressing of the cane is. With its steady repetitive rhythm, it has proved to be a fertile source of inspiration for music. The most famous ballads sung while at work on the trapiches are the oh boi or kola boi. They dwell on at length the socio-economic suffering, which beset the Cabo Verdeans. It is said the melodies often reduce the oxen to tears.

Grogue has been produced in large quantities from locally grown sugar cane in the green valleys on the north coast of Santa Antao for centuries. Almost certainly produced for the Royal Navy which called regularly at Mindelo..

Sugar cane is harvested in late Spring. It is cut by hand using a manjat that is part hammer part scythe. The canes are cut to size with machetes, removing the leaves to produce long stalks. These are tied into 20kg bundles and carried, head-top by women to the Curral or pressing area. The women are paid piece rates acording to how many bundles they can bring in for a given distance from the cane field. .

The Trapicho or press produces sugary juice between rotating wooden barrels, which have small rivets to catch the cane. . Bagaco ir cane syrup is sometimes used to heat the distilling furnace as well as to produce grogue. In some traditional Currals mules, oxen or cattle are used to drag a beam attached to a capstan around in a circle which turns the press.

Calda fresco or cane syrup is fermented with citric acid.to destroy bacteria and natural wild yeast. New yeast, is then added to ferment the syrup in large closed vats, a process which can take between 3 and 6 weeks according to temperature.
Eventually a clear alcohol is produced that is ready for distillation to purify the spirit, Heating the cane spirit prioduces first ethanol and acetates and above 78C ethyl alcohol which is collected in a 20 litre bottles or Garrafao.

After two distillation processes a strong rum of between 56% and 72% alcohol by volume has been produced. Whilst it used to be drunk at this strenght, most people would now find this too strong so it is watered down with distilled water to a more palatable 45% abv

The other traditional cash crop of Cape Verde is tobacco, which grows well in the fertile valleys to the north of Santiago. It was brought back from brazil to be cultivated by slaves in Santiago. Now it is used to produce cigarettes locally but also sold in street markets by vendors, invariably men, in large hanks at very moderate prices.

In the foothills of the Pico da Antonia and between Assomada and St. Catarina, there are countless small hamlets. Tobacco and coffee fields still exist in this very fertile valley but asgriculture has been hard hit by the drouights orf recent years. .