Betim, a city with about 415,000 inhabitants less than 19 miles from Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais, is known in Brazil for the Fiat factory.
The Betim rural area, where many BH residents have vacation homes, is also the birthplace of Vale Verde cachaça. Aficionados of Brazil's signature distilled drink traveling in Belo Horizonte, a host city in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, can count on finding some of the country's best cachaça at this distillery nestled in an ecological park with attractions for the whole family.
Many would say you'll find the very best here: the latest first-place ranking in Vale Verde history was achieved in February 2014, when, in a blind tasting, specialists grouped as Cúpula da Cachaça, or the Cachaça Summit, chose the distillery's 12-year label to top a list of 50 labels which also included Vale Verde Extra Premium in 21st and Minha Deusa, another label produced by the company, in 42nd place.
The Vale Verde Ecological Park has several animals, including the ones in the Insectarium. And its top-notch captive bird breeding program has recently scored another victory.
Meet the Hyacinth Macaw
Vale Verde Ecological Park has captive bird breeding facilities authorized by Ibama, Brazil's main environmental institute, and has successfully bred species threatened with extinction.
One of them is the hyacinth macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, a member of the Psittacidae bird family on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List (www.iucnredlist.org) and very difficult to breed. The park's first success in that endeavor was in 2011.
"We were able to breed three young hyacinth macaws at that time," said Vale Verde biologist Ramon Palhares in a press release. "It's gratifying to receive such a gift from nature and to see that we are contributing to the preservation of the species."
According to Ramon Palhares, one of the reasons the breeding of hyacinths is a difficult and slow process is that they only start mating when they are six years old. Still, the park is commemorating the birth of a new female hyacinth, born in October 2013.
As of this writing, she is in the weaning phase. "That's when the young bird begins to become more independent and, for example, eat without help," said Palhares. But she can already be visited.
Vale Verde Labels
Two brands of cachaça are produced at Vale Verde Ecological Park. During most of the manufacturing process, both cachaças are the same. The difference between Vale Verde and Minha Deusa ("My Goddess") is aging.
While Minha Deusa is left to rest for only 6 months in a barrel made of neutral wood and doesn't go through changes in color or flavor, Vale Verde is aged in European oak casks. The Ministry of Agriculture seals each one of the company's 3,000 casks and breaks the seal three years later.
As oxygen enters the cask through the porous wood, it oxidizes alcohol and enhances the cachaça, softening its flavor. Aged cachaça has a golden glow, unlike non-aged cachaça, which is clear and nicknamed branquinha ("little white one") in Brazil.
Straight from the Heart
Vale Verde and Minha Deusa are both cachaça artesanal (pronounced ca-SHA-sa ar-te-sa-NOW), or handcrafted cachaça. One of the most important characteristics of handcrafted cachaça is a separation of the distilled substance into batches during distillation in copper pot stills (or alambiques in Portuguese), as opposed to the continuous distillation in columns used in the production of industrial cachaça.
Handcrafted cachaça only uses the so-called "core" or "heart" of distillation. Cachaça Vale Verde has 43 degrees Gay-Lussac - the Brazilian legal range is 38-54° GL.
Learn more: www.cachacavaleverde.com.br
According to Vale Verde Ecological Park, several measures are taken to ensure sustainable production:
- All the sugar cane used is grown on the company’s property.
- Sugar cane is hand-picked and the straw is not burned.
- All the bagasse (the sugar cane fiber left after the juice has been extracted) is used as fuel for steam distilling, as part of the compost pile for the organic vegetable garden, and to line nests in the aviary.
- Inferior alcohol not used for cachaça is processed for use as fuel in company vehicles.
- No chemicals are used to kick off fermentation – only natural products such as the yeasts from the sugar cane itself, rice, or corn meal.
Another attraction at Vale Verde Ecological Park is the Cachaça Museum ( Museu da Cachaça), which opened in 1987. It features more than 1,500 labels, including vintage labels and international brands. Two of the most valuable items are Cachaça Pelé – of which only two bottles are known to exist in Brazil – and Cachaça Havana, considered a collector's prize.
The museum also has equipment from the 19th century, such as a sugar cane grinding mill and a bottling machine. Tri-dimensional pictures cover the story of cachaça and the importance of sugar cane in Brazilian history.
Vale Verde Ecological Park is open daily 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For group tours of the production area, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 31-3079-9116.
Restaurant Hours: Mon-Fri, 11a-3p; Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 11a-5p.
Although most attractions, including the aviary and an orchid garden, are open during the week, weekend visitors get some special perks, such as feeding the birds.
Fun Activities at the Ecological Park
Zip lining, water ball, a fishing pond, and a little trolley are some of the things to do at the Eco Park, which also has a buffet restaurant and hosts special activities throughout the year - check out their website and social networking for what they will have on during 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
Contact Information and Directions:
Vale Verde Alambique e Parque Ecológico - Address:
Rodovia MG 50, KM 39 - Bairro Vianópolis - Betim - MG
Directions: From Belo Horizonte, take BR-381 (Rodovia Fernão Dias) to São Paulo, then Via Expressa to Betim. To see the map on the company website, click on Como Chegar at the top of the home page on the Vale Verde Ecological Park website.