Bagan, a palm liquor distillery • Myanmar

Explore this palm alcohol distillery in Bagan, Myanmar! A 4-minute video takes you on a journey through this unique experience.

This film was made on the basis of photos and videos taken during the trip Myanmar • Burma (EN)

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Reading the text below will help you better understand the cultural context of the images in this video.

Many countries produce alcohol. Some from the vine, producing wine or spirits such as Armagnac or Cognac, others from grain as is the case with whisky, and still others from fruit. But in Myanmar, we use the sap of the palm trees to produce this alcohol which we call Toddy there.

The sporting part of this production concerns the harvesting of this sap. For this, you have to climb to the top of the tree, incise the trunk and cut the end of the young flowers and place terracotta or bamboo bowls to collect the sap which then escapes from the palm tree. And after a few hours, you have to go back to the top of the palm tree to retrieve the pots filled with sap.

As with all alcohol production, the base liquid must ferment. The process here is totally natural, no need to add yeast to start fermentation. Palm sap ferments spontaneously thanks to the natural yeasts it contains. And the fermentation is fast too. In two hours, a jar of palm sap left in the sun already produces a wine with an alcohol content of nearly 4 degrees.

To obtain a stronger alcohol, it is always necessary to go through distillation. Here too everything happens in the greatest simplicity. No need to install large copper stills and large facilities for cooling and condensing the alcohol distilled from palm wine.

No, a simple earthenware pot heated over a wood fire is sufficient for distillation. This makeshift still is covered with a container containing cold water allowing the vapors to condense in the still before evacuation through a pipe introduced into the top of the earthenware pot. And the palm alcohol pours drop by drop into the bottle that has been placed at the other end of the pipe.

The palm tree still offers other resources. If its sap is used to make palm wine and alcohol, it can also be heated before fermentation to produce palm sugar. To obtain more sap than by the natural flow, one can also crush the flowers. This operation is done in a kind of mill whose wheel is driven by a harnessed ox turning a large wheel by circular movements.

 

about the place, a distillery near Bagan:

There are several farms in Myanmar that have specialized in the production of palm sugar and liquor in Myanmar. The one we visited is called Hlaing Palm Wine & Sugar Workshop.

 

Spoken comments in the film: 

To make palm alcohol, you must first be a good climber. You have to climb to the top of the palm tree to make incisions and cut the tops of the flowers to collect the sap which is the basis of this alcohol.

 

Once the sap has been harvested, either by natural flow from the incisions made at the top of the palm tree or by crushing the flowers using the millstone powered by the ox, the liquid is left in the sun for a few hours to let the fermentation take place.

 

Fermentation is very fast, so that after two hours you can move on to distillation. To distill the fermented sap, it is poured into a kind of still. In fact, a pot in which a pipe is inserted for the flow of cooled alcohol vapors. We put fire under these pots and cover them with a basin of cold water, to facilitate the condensation of the vapors which will escape by the pipe to finish their course in the bottles placed at the foot of the still.

 

But palm sap isn't just for making alcohol. It is also made into sugar. Of course, for this you must not let the liquid ferment. 

It is put to heat directly after the harvest, in basins placed directly on the fire.

 

And because in these countries nothing is wasted, the leaves become works of art.

 

Music:

 - YouTube video library - Clouds

 

• Disclaimer: As traditional music is often subject to copyright (claimed by major music distribution groups), the musical illustration of this film "Bagan, a palm liquor distillery • Myanmar" does not use typical music of Myanmar but is borrowed from a collection of royalty-free music. Despite the painstaking care given to the musical choices in this film, some people may regret this choice, but it is the price to pay for not incurring unnecessary lawsuits. This decision was difficult to take, but it's the only viable solution, unfortunately. •

 

palm liquor distillery in myanmar, Bagan • Myanmar
harvesting sap at the top of the palm tree, Bagan • Myanmar

harvesting sap at the top of the palm tree

crushing of the flowers thanks to a millstone operated by an ox, Bagan • Myanmar

crushing of the flowers thanks to a millstone operated by an ox

makeshift stills, Bagan • Myanmar

makeshift stills

palm wine fermentation, Bagan • Myanmar

palm wine fermentation

Mandawa, Rajasthan, India

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