Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Aluá - Brazil's Traditional Homemade Moonshine

To call aluá "moonshine", as Flavors of Brazil has done in the title of this article, is to do it an injustice, as moonshine is normally of high alcoholic and of low gastronomic value - a vehicle for getting drunk, not a fresh and refreshing drink with a bit of sparkle due to fermentation. But by comparing the Brazilian drink aluá to the white-lightning that is moonshine, the similarities between these two beverages are highlighted - their antiquity, their homemade character, their regionality, and the grand variety of ingredients that can be fermented to create the drink.

The history of aluá in Brazil is long, but it is dim and unsettled. Some authorities say that the technique of fermenting grains or fruits mixed with water and sugar came to Brazil with the Portuguese and that they in turn learned it from the Moors. For these folks, the word aluá derived from the Arabic word "heluon" meaning "sweet." Other food historians think that it was the slaves from Africa that brought aluá to Brazil, and that the name comes from an African tongue. Still others think that indigenous peoples of the Americas were making aluá long before either the Portuguese or the African arrived.
Freed slaves selling aluá - 19th cent.

In any case, aluá has been a popular drink for centuries and remains so today, particularly in the North and Northeast of Brazil. In the semi-arid interior of the Northeast, the sertão, the drink is particularly associated with the Festas Juninas, the cycle of festivals that occurs in the month of June. People make a supply of aluá to serve to the steady stream of visitors to their homes during the festivals, and it is shared by dancers and spectators at quadrilhas, which are folk-dancing exhibitions and contests. In the state of Minas Gerais, tradition forbids the sale of aluá. It must be given or shared in a spirit of conviviality. Because it's alcoholic content is quite low, normally around 3%, aluá can lighten and animate the spirit without causing the drinker to exhibit any of the negative signs of drunkenness.

In the state of Bahia, aluá is associated with the ceremonies and rituals of candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion of the region. There, it is traditionally served in enormous jars, and offered to the twin divinities Ibeji (although consumed by the celebrants).

The basic concept of aluá is to create a mixture of either fruit or grain plus water, then let it ferment naturally for a short time before drinking. Normally it only takes about a day for the fermentation process to occur naturally in the heat of Brazil, so the drink is most often made the day before it is to be served. In cooler climates, fermentation will naturally take a bit longer. Unless the drink is refrigerated, however, it will continue to ferment and increase in alcoholic content, so it is best drunk when it is still at an early stage in the fermentation process - otherwise, it can become unpleasant and dangerously high in alcohol.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide two recipes for aluá; one made with fruit and one with grains.


  1. What is moonshine and what processes take place in it in the manufacture of moonshine? Moonshine, he is the still, he's the distiller - device for obtaining a strong alcohol-containing liquid from the distillation of Braga with a lower concentration of alcohol. Thus moonshine separates low-boiling components (ethanol) from tyazhelokipyaschih (water, fusel oil), resulting in the final product (moonshine) increases the concentration of alcohol and, therefore, decreases the concentration of water and fusel oils. Here, for example, the scheme of the classic moonshine with a coil:

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