Cachaça (Kuh-shah-sah) is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Cachaça is denomination of origin, in other regions of Brazil it is known as “aguardente“, “pinga” or other names. Cachaça is mostly produced in Brazil, where 1,500 million liters (396 million gallons) are consumed annually (roughly eight litres per head), compared with 15 million liters (3.96 million gallons) outside the country. Cachaça is the product of the distillation of fermented sugarcane juice, with its alcohol strength between 38% and 48% by volume. Up to six grams per liter of sugar may be added.
Cachaça is often said to differ from rum in that it is made from sugarcane juice while rum is made from either molasses or sugarcane juice then aged in oak barrels.
1.3 billion liters of Cachaça are produced each year. Only 1% of this production is exported (mainly to Germany). Outside Brazil, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks, with the caipirinha being the most famous cocktail.
My favorite brand of cachaça happens to be Espírito de Minas (pictured below) from the state of Minas Gerais. Great tasting and as smooth as can be.
Cachaça was invented by the first Portuguese settlers of Brazil, in the region around the town of São Vicente, sometime between 1532 and 1548. Workers at local sugar mills first discovered that the sugarcane juice (garapa), cooked and left standing, would “sour” (ferment) and turn into a mild alcoholic beverage. The product, disparagingly named cagaça (something excremented), was consumed by slaves, as a cheap substitute for an Indian alcoholic beverage called cauim. Soon someone had the idea of distilling it, and thus cachaça was born.
Cachaçarias (Cachaça distilleries) multiplied through colonial Brazil during the 16th and 17th centuries. Portugal eventually took notice and, in order to protect the market for Portuguese-made grappa, tried several times to outlaw the manufacture and consumption of the new spirit. In 1756, after a century of failure to suppress it, the Crown gave up and levied a tax on cachaça. This tax brought substantial revenue to the Treasury, and contributed to the reconstruction following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami.
Currently there are more than 4,000 different brands of cachaça available in Brazil. Early in its history it was consumed mainly by Africans, peasants, and members of the lower class. As is often the case, elitists considered it a low drink, unfit for exclusivist bars and tables. However, the finer points of the product gained wider and wider appreciation, and it is now a very popular drink, considered by some to be in the same class as whiskey and wine. In the country’s largest cities there are many bars specialized in cachaça , offering hundreds of different brands, some of them very expensive. The most prized brands are produced in Minas Gerais. The Brazilian government and producer associations have recently acted to promote the export of cachaça.
A cold cocktail made of cachaça, limes, and sugar. It is the most famous Brazilian cocktail, and carries the meaning of “small hillbilly”. The unique combination of sour (lime) and sweet (sugar) with the strong taste of cachaça makes its character. Additionally, a caipirosca is a caipirinha made with vodka, not cachaça. Fruit caipirinhas are also popular, such as the caipirinha de maracujá (passion fruit).
This is a hot drink that is traditionally prepared in Festas Juninas (June Festivals). Cheap wine is the base ingredient, with cachaça being added to increase the alcoholic level, with ginger and spices added in. It has a strong scent, a sharp taste and a sudden effect. People often claim (inaccurately) that the boiling will make much the alcohol evaporate, this avoiding the social stigmatization associated with drinking cachaça drinks. The name is the augmentative form of the adjective that means “hot”, roughly translating into “the very hot (drink)”. For reference, imagine an alcoholic hot apple cider!