What is Cachaça?
From Peru to Argentina, South America proudly boasts strong and unique spirits as their national liquors, but Brazil has a leg up on most with their precious Cachaça. The “better” rum (depending on who you ask) is one of their most exported items, and it is the main ingredient in their national drink the Caipirinha. Since we already taught you to make the perfect Caipirinha, we figured now is a great time to explain exactly what is in it and how Cachaça put Brazil on the map and on most cocktail menus.
Cachaça (pronounced kah-SHAH-sah) is made from fermented sugarcane juice, and while that may sound a lot like rum, it’s not. Rum is made by using molasses,
Cachaça is like a more organic product of the sugarcane juice. It typically looks clear but a few distillers add a little caramel to indicate it has been aged. The ABV of any Cachaça can range from 38-54%, that being said it is not typically aged.
It has light and dark versions, like rum, but they’re just known as white or dark Cachaça. White is softer, and therefore only aged 1 year, while dark is heavier on all fronts and usually aged 3 years or more.
Cachaça does have its regulations, as all national treasures do, and therefore can only be made from Brazilian sugarcane. Even the casks it is aged in have to be made from indigenous woods from Brazil. Some examples include Amburana, which adds a little cinnamon to the flavor; Zebrawood, a red tint wood that gives the same hue and a certain fruitiness to the overall product; and Jequitibá Rosa, which adds bitterness and tropical fruit flavors.
While it can be drank neat, or straight, Cachaca is more often used in cocktails, most notably the Caipirinha. It’s a drink that can be easily modified and Brazilians can’t get enough of it.
According to Flaviar, Brazilians drink 11.5 liters per person per year which accounts for 99% of all Cachaça production. It has yet to make its mark on the shelves in the U.S. market, but you’ll definitely find it and for distillers down in Brazil, that is a huge compliment. So why hasn’t it blown up the way it did in Brazil? Perhaps tracing its origins would explain.
A Brief History:
Back in 1532, Portugal moved sugar production to Brazil from the Madeira islands, and yes it sadly does have ties to slavery.
In Madeira, they were already making “aguardiente de cana” using the traditions Portugal had inherited from the Arabic Ummayyad history of the Iberian Peninsula.
These traditions incorporated the use of pot stills, combined with talented distillers, and therefore made it a common practice among common people.
When it was brought to Brazil, the only thing that was modified was the liking of agricultural landowners. The plantation owners would utilize stills to create a bourgeois product for their consumption, and even today you see engineers or other educated landowners retiring to produce cachaça on the family farm.
According to Difford’s Guide, one man named Erasmus Schletz can be thanked for inventing the distilling process of Cachaça today. In 1543, it was this Switzerland immigrant, who first managed a sugarcane mill in Brazil.
Schletz was but an ant in a sea of immigrants that flooded Brazil from the 1600s all the way into the 1900s. A flux of Italians, Lebanese, French, and Germans would later come to affect the many traditional Cachaça brands and production heritage.
Since Brazilians are the ones drinking up most of their national spirit, where does that 1% get shipped off to? You’d be surprised to know- Germany!
Given it’s 1500’s era birthday- Cachaça is older than rum!
The distilling of Rum didn’t begin until the 1600s.
Brazil has much to be proud of, and Cachaça is no exception. So whether you’re hunting for a bottle or a caipirinha, we beg you to try it if this is all news to you.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this first lesson in March, we have a lot of new things coming your way, so stick with us!
Thanks for reading, and as always…