Cachaca (aguardente) is a rum-style spirit made from sugar cane juice by artisanal methods in Brazil. A study was made of the production, biochemistry and microbiology of the process in fifteen distilleries in Sul de Minas. Identification of 443 yeasts showed Saccharomyces cerevisiae to be the predominant yeast but Rhodotorula glutinis and Candida maltosa were predominant in three cases. Bacterial infection is a potential problem, particularly in older wooden vats, when the ratio of yeasts:bacteria can be 10:1 or less. A study of daily batch fermentations in one distillery over one season in which 739 yeasts were identified revealed that S. cerevisiae was the predominant yeast. Six other yeast species showed a daily succession: Kluyveromyces marxianus, Pichia heimii and Hanseniaspora uvarum were present only at the beginning, Pichia subpelliculosa and Debaryomyces hansenii were detected from mid to the end of fermentation, and Pichia methanolica appeared briefly after the cessation of fermentation. Despite a steady influx of yeasts from nature, the species population in the fermenter was stable for at least four months suggesting strong physiological and ecological pressure for its maintenance. Cell densities during the fermentation were: yeasts - 4 x 10(8)/ml; lactic acid bacteria - 4 x 10(5)/ml; and bacilli - 5 x 10(4)/ml. Some acetic acid bacteria and enterobacteriaceae appeared at the end. Sucrose was immediately hydrolysed to fructose and glucose. The main fermentation was complete after 12 hours but not all fructose was utilised when harvesting after 24 hours.