As featured and advertised in the July 2013 issue of Skyways, Airlink's inflight magazine
You'll find it in the world's best bars, from London, Paris, Milan, Moscow and New York, to Singapore, Tokyo and Buenos Aires. It's on the top 10 list of most popular and most talked about liqueur brands, according to Drinks International.
Without doubt, Amarula is a true African original. It is loved over ice, in a kaleidoscope of cocktails and shooters, in coffee or as a must-have ingredient for many desserts. A luxurious but affordable indulgence, a glass of Amarula is the way many people spoil themselves, whether after a hard day's work, on vacation or catching up with friends. When they sip on its creamy richness, they think of the unspoiled African bushveld, where wild animals roam and the sunsets are among the most spectacular experienced anywhere. Amarula has its roots in Phalaborwa in the Limpopo Province, where indigenous marula trees grow in the wild. Its appeal lies in the unique flavour that captures the heart of the fragrant, sun-ripened yellow marula fruits, which fall to the ground at the height of the African summer. Sweet and tangy, they are laden with juice full of citrus notes, with a creamy nuttiness. Small wonder that elephants love them too. Currently, there are 25 villages across seven communities close to Phalaborwa, whose members collect the marula fruit for the producers of Amarula. Comprising mainly women, they collect the fruit and take it to various collection points, from where it goes to Amarula's production plant. They are paid for every kilogram they deliver and the proceeds have become a valued source of income for their families, supporting around 60,000 people.
At the production centre, each fruit is individually checked to ensure it is fully ripened and free of blemishes before the flesh is crushed with the skins. In a de-stoning tank, rotating blades separate the flesh from the hard seeds or nuts. The fruit pulp is inoculated with a pure yeast culture to start fermentation in much the same way wine is made. After fermentation, which takes place on the skins, the fruit solids present in the marula wine are removed and compressed to extract all the juice, and then distilled to release even more of the marula fruit flavours, before being added back to the marula wine.
The marula wine is then double-distilled to create a fragrant and intensely flavoured marula spirit, aged in small oak barrels for two years, naturally imparting wood spice characters of vanilla and toast. Another important ingredient is fresh dairy cream, which gives Amarula its rich and velvety smooth consistency.
If you visit the Amarula Lapa, you not only get to taste the Spirit of Africa, as it's also known, but discover exciting new ways of enjoying Amarula. During the harvest from January to March, you can taste the exotic fresh fruit, made available to visitors. You can watch a video of how it's created; indulge in the famous Amarula cake, created according to a secret recipe known to no-one but the baker; try a host of fun Amarula pairings with food and cocktails, and also find out more about the value its production has for marginalised communities and for eco-conservation.
As a way of giving back, the not-for-profit Amarula Trust sustains communities and promotes conservation. It has been instrumental in the establishment of an early-learning centre in Limpopo for young children, with close to a 100 benefitting from the pre-school learning provided, along with nutritious meals, portable water, books, toys and sporting and exercise equipment.
There are many other communities in the region for whom the trust has established boreholes to ensure drinking water. It also maintains the boreholes and helped establish a local health clinic in the area.
Further afield in the Western Cape, women are employed to thread, knot and brush out the golden braided tassels tied around the neck of every Amarula bottle. These women not only feed and clothe their families from what they earn – many have also been able to buy their own homes and send money to their families in the Eastern Cape.
The Amarula Field Guide Scholarship is the trust's initiative to promote field guide training and provide critical employment skills. When successful students receive their Level 1 certification from the Field Guide Association of South Africa (FGASA), they are equipped to begin a career in eco-tourism. A major focus of the trust's work is research into African elephants and elephant behaviour as the basis for conservation planning and management. The Amarula Elephant Research Programme (AERP), under the leadership of Prof Rob Slotow of KwaZulu/Natal University is recognised as a global authority on African elephant behaviour, having been involved in field studies in reserves such as the Pilanesberg National Park, the Pongola Game Reserve, the Makalali Private Game Reserve, the Kruger National Park and the Pinda Private Game Reserve.
The Trust also supports the Centre for African Conservation Ecology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. In Kenya, it is involved with the country's Wildlife Service, providing funding to enhance infrastructure at its headquarters in Nairobi, which also serves as the gateway to the Nairobi National Park.