Maybe the word cachaça (pronounced ka-shaá-zah) doesn’t ring any bells, but you’ve probably heard about caipirinhas, the famous Brazilian cocktail. Well, cachaça is caipirinhas’ heart and soul, and much more: it’s also Brazil’s national spirit and one of the most consumed distilled drinks in the world, only behind vodka and soju.
This fresh and sweet liquor is made from fermented sugarcane juice. Dating from colonial times, cachaça has grown into a cult drink, strongly tied up with the nation’s history and culture.
Some prefer to drink cachaça straight, while others would rather sip it in a caipirinha or another cocktail. Whether it’s chilling out under the sun at one of the country’s wonderful beaches or trying a delicious traditional dish, Brazil’s most famous booze is always a great choice!
Traveling to Brazil soon? Check out our tours and keep reading to find out more about cachaça.
A bit of cachaça history
The history of cachaça is linked with Brazil’s colonial past. Sugarcane was introduced by the Portuguese in the XVI century and sugar production became the main economical activity in the region, with thousands of African slaves working at sugar mills.
Obtained from sugarcane via a boiling process, cachaça was first given to slaves as a source of energy to get through the hard working day.
After a few years, the production of cachaça was improved and started to attract new consumers. But soon the Portuguese became aware that the distilled drink was competing with their national wine, so they banned the production and sale of cachaça. As a result, an underground market flourished throughout Brazil and the drink became more in demand than ever. During those years, Brazilians came up with hundreds of alternative nicknames to refer to cachaça in secret.
Cachaça became a symbol of Brazil’s identity. During the independence movements, drinking it was a proof of resistance against the Portuguese colonizers. And when independence was finally declared in 1822, cachaça was the drink of celebration.
Cachaça, a diversity of fascinating flavors
The process for making cachaça consist of three steps. First, fresh sugarcane juice is obtained from the crop. Then, the juice is fermented and finally, distilled. Cachaça usually has an alcohol concentration of between 38% and 51%.
Sometimes it’s compared to rum, because they both come from distilled sugarcane, although rum is made with molasses, adding one more step to the process. Others think that cachaça has more in common with the Mexican tequila, as it comes directly from the crop and has some herb notes.
There are two types of cachaça: industrial or artisanal. The industrial cachaça (also called ‘white cachaça’) is bottled right after the distillation and may or may not have an aging process. Cheaper than the artisanal, it’s commonly used to prepare caipirinhas or other cocktails.
The artisanal cachaça (also known as ‘yellow’ or ‘gold cachaça’) is always aged in wooden barrels for one or more years, so it has a darker color. This is a premium type of cachaça, which is made in small batches and can be drunk straight like a whisky. The distillation process is usually done in copper stills, increasing the quality of the product. When cachaças are aged for three or more years (sometimes up to 16 years!) they are labeled as ‘extra premium’.
Artisanal cachaças can taste different depending on the type of sugarcane used to prepare them and the type of wood of the barrels where they are aged. Native Brazilian woods are sometimes used instead of oak, resulting in a wide and complex diversity of flavors.
A route to the best artisanal cachaça in Brazil
From large industries to small micro-producers, there are more than 40,000 cachaça distilleries spread along the country. The states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais are famous for its high-quality cachaças.
Brazil even has a Cachaça National Day, which is celebrated on September 13. Here’s a route to the best places to visit and taste the country’s most beloved elixir!
Paraty ―a small colonial town to the south of Rio de Janeiro and one of Brazil’s most beautiful coastal cities― is well known for its artisanal cachaça and it’s home to a cachaça festival held every year in August.
The city of Belo Horizonte ―capital of Minas Gerais― is known as ‘the city of pubs’, boasting the largest amount of pubs in Latin America. This city offers a special circuit for tourists willing to sip different kinds of artisanal cachaças: it’s called the cachaça tour and includes several stops at the most picturesque pubs in town, to savour Brazil’s most famous booze with typical food.
Close to Belo Horizonte lies the historical town of Brumadinho, where visitors can learn and witness the process of artisanal cachaça, as well as visiting ancient distilleries.
Salinas, a town of Minas Gerais, is known as the capital of artisanal cachaça and concentrates some of the most famous producers in the country. Besides trying some of them, travelers can also visit a huge museum and learn about the history of cachaça in Brazil.
Caipirinha and beyond: how to drink cachaça
As it happens with other Latin American cocktails like margaritas in Mexico, pisco in Chile and Peru, and mojitos in Cuba, a capirinha is Brazil’s trademark cocktail.
Prepared with muddled limes mixed with cachaça, sugar and ice, caipirinhas are a perfect match for days at the beach or vibrant nights. This drink has become one of the essential cocktails in the world and made cachaça popular outside Brazil. The original version is made with limes but you should definitely try caipirinhas with other fruits like red fruits, passion fruit, pineapple or kiwi.
But of course, it’s not the only cachaça-based drink. The batida is another cocktail you can have in Brazil, which is a mix of cachaça, coconut milk, fruit (passion fruit is the most popular option) and sugar. Cafe Brasileiro is a hot cocktail made of cachaça, coffee, chocolate liquor and cream.
Finally, if you’d like to feel like an authentic Brazilian, you should try it straight, specially the artisanal type.