Here we have a very special installment of my 2009 Cachaça Tour documentary — a trip to Barril 39. Some of you may remember Barril 39 as the winner of the first blind taste test I held a little more than a year ago.
This tiny operation, passed from late father to son, is undergoing a period of transformation and renewal. The horse-powered cane-crusher atop the hill will be replaced by a modern electric one. New structures have been erected to handle each step of the cachaça-making value chain — crushing, fermenting, aging, bottling — whereas a very small room handled most of these tasks before. Further, each building stands lower on the hill than the next, making gravity do some of work for the small distillery.
All of this said, the old setup is a wonder of homespun ergonomic ingenuity. Proprietor Sérgio Azevedo's father originally arranged everything such that he could run almost all of the operation from his wheelchair. The fermentation tanks, for example, are smaller than usual and raised well above the floor, connected by a network of pipes and valves set within easy reach.
Of greatest interest is the product I have yet to taste: Sergio sent me home with a bottle of Barril 39's one-thousandth distillation, carrying the old "Terras Altas" label, from which only a few liters exist.