Cachaça Brazil’s National Spirit

Cachaça (pronounced ka-sha-sah) is a Brazilian spirit. Cachaça is distilled from fermented juice of fresh sugar cane. It is the third most widely consumed spirit in the world, and over 1.5 billion liters of Cachaça are produced each year, mainly for domestic consumption. The drink is thought to have originated from Portuguese settlers around the 1530’s. The spirit became popular with slave masters who would give the sugary beverage to their slaves to increase their levels of productivity. For a brief period in the 17th century it was made illegal partly due to Cachaça’s  legacy as a slave drink and also as it threatened the more aristocratic drink, Grappa.

Cachaça is distilled from pressed sugar cane juice. It is often compare to rum, also derived from sugar cane but made from molasses. It has a distinctive aroma and taste and tends to be fruitier than rum. There are two styles of Cachaça, white, often called ‘unaged Cachaça’ which is generally bottled immediately after distillation. This style is more common in North America and used almost exclusively in mixed drinks. The gold style or aged Cachaça spends a minimum of 12 months in wooden barrels and may be aged as long as 15 years. Until recently, aged Cachaça was only found in Brazil but has been gaining momentum on the international market. At least 20 kinds of wood can be used for aging which impart distinct flavours of spices and toast. Normally consumed over ice, aged Cachaça is prized for being smoother and more complex than younger, typically grassy, white Cachaça.

While many importers classify the liquor as a type of rum, the Brazillian government has lobbied hard since 2001 to have Cachaça accepted as a unique category of alcohol beverage. It also sent the issue to the World Trade Organization in the hope that the name Cachaça will eventually gain intellectual property rights protection under international law. The Brazilian government is also currently involved in negotiations with the European Union in attempts to ensure that the name Cachaça will only be applied to products of Brazilian origin. This may be difficult to pull off since the Portuguese produce their own version of Cachaça from grapes. In April 2012, the US agreed to officially recognize Cachaça as a distinct spirit.

Cachaça is not only Brazil’s national spirit, but also the principal ingredient in the country’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha.  Cachaça is also used in the delicious, exotic Bossa Nova cocktail.