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How to Make Alcohol from Sugar Cane
Making alcohol from sugar cane is a way of life for many families in this part of Ecuador.  In the steep foothills of the Andes, they mostly farm and harvest their sugar cane by hand and use a traditional process to make the alcohol.  Many of the families farm without chemicals and some now have formal organic certification.
Sugar cane is cut with a machete on our farms.  In this area the hills are too steep to use heavy machinery.  Each individual cane is cut when it is ready.  The sugar cane is cut as low down as possible because the heavy, sugary sap sinks down the stem.  The more sugar there is in the juice, the more alcohol can be produced.  The leaves are cut off the end and left in the field to rot back into the soil.
The sugar cane is carried by hand to the mill if it is close, or loaded onto a horse or donkey. 
Traditional sugar cane mills are powered by horse or donkey.  The horse walks in a circle pulling a strong beam of wood which turns the wheels of the mill, while the sugar cane is carefully fed between two heavy rollers.  The squashed sugar cane stalks are called bagasse.  The bagasse is used as fuel for the stills, this avoids the need to cut down trees for firewood.
The sugar cane juice pours out of the mill into tanks.  It is delicious to drink, but to make alcohol it must be left to ferment for a few days.  Yeast can be added, but the juice will also ferment with natural yeasts from the air.
The fermented juice is put into a tank over a fire of bagasse to be heated.  The heat causes the juice to evaporate and the vapour passes through the still.  Stills are traditionally made from copper, though stainless steel is also used these days.  The vapour passes through a "serpentine" (a coiled tube).  Cold running water from a nearby stream is used to cool the still so that the vapour is condensed back to a clear liquid which is collected at the other end.  The water cools on its journey back to the stream and returns to the ecosystem. 
CADO has designed a new distillation tank which is safer and more efficient, but we need more funds to make this technology available to our farmers.  Our appropriate technology loan fund will give them the chance to benefit from this new technology as soon as possible - your donations to the fund will help them to escape from poverty. 
The liquid produced by the still is known as aguardiente and contains about 60% alcohol.  The strength is measured with a hydrometer to determine the specific gravity.  The price that the farmers receive for their aguardiente varies with the percentage of alcohol it contains.
The aguardiente is transported in plastic tanks to the village collection point, by horse or donkey, or on the back of the bus.  From there it will go to the sugar cane farmers' co-operative's main collection point to be rectified at a large plant which will produce alcohol of 70 to 96 percent.


How to make alcohol from sugar cane.
The traditional alcohol-making process used by the farmers of CADO,
a co-operative of sugar cane farmers in the western foothills of the Andes in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Bolivar.
A Green Progress organic farming project from CRACYP.



Farmer cutting organic sugar cane with macheteHorse laden with sticks of sugar caneThe cane stalks are rolled in a horse-driven mill
Fire under tank of sugar cane juice at farm distillery
Measuring the strength of sugar cane alcohol
Horse carrying tank of sugar cane alcohol