“Cachaça! The Brazilian spirit that started from the bottom to reach higher heights

To get in the mood to party, or to digest a good meal, Eastern countries offer vodka, Caribbean offer rum and Hispanic countries aguardiente. Brazil is faithful to his famous cachaça, or cachace. An alcoholic spirit made with fermented sugarcane juice, this drink formerly reserved for the lower classes has taken pride of place among other well loved spirits.

Cachaça, an old cordial

Cachaça has changed places: she left the underside of the bar counters to sit on the shelf with pride” said famous Brazilian bartender Derivan de Souza of the astonishing rise of this Brazilian spirit which was long confined to the countryside and the slums of Brazilian megacities. It is certainly evident that cachaça has benefited from tourism and its use in various cocktails, including the most famous Brazilian cocktail : Caipirinha. Without this refreshing and popular Brazilian recipe, it would be safe to say that Cachaça would not have reached its current level of popularity!
According to old records, it is estimated that the first cachaças were distilled by the Portuguese in the first half of the 16th century. We should rather say “fermented and distilled.” Freshly cut, the sugar cane is crushed with a press to extract the juice. This fermented juice produces a very sweet alcohol, about 5 °, which, once distilled, gives a strong alcohol of the order of 55 ° comparable to agricultural rum. It is this rum which, once brought back to 40 ° and bottled, will become the cachaça that is now good to drink among all parts of Brazilian society.

From glasses to tanks, Cachaça and its different uses

Originally produced in a very traditional way, cachaça became one of the engines of the economic boom of Brazil from the beginning of the twentieth century. In ancient times, this alcohol was very affordable, and even used as a transaction currency to buy other products, including slaves. In the seventeenth century, its courts flew to such heinous heights that a revolt rumbled against the Portuguese who were accused of stifling the little people.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Brazil wanted to participate in the global economic boom. A poor country devoid of heavy industry and the latest technology, it would base its rise on its natural resources: wood, coffee and sugar cane, of which it would become one of the biggest exporters. The big landowners, the “fazendeiros,” made sugar cane their main source of income and began to produce cachaça industrially (mostly in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais) where the biggest producers remain . Incidentally, this new financial power enabled them to gain a golden place in politics and lead the country as they pleased.

Cachaça remained despite little production – most rich Brazilians preferred to drink wine, even of mediocre quality. In the nineties, pressed and distilled sugar cane was used for something other than filling small glasses at the end of the meal: the ethanol from this plant was for a moment going to replace the expensive petrol in the tanks of cars. Inconclusive results, increased consumption and above all access to oil fields thanks to the famous state-owned company Petrobras caused Brazil to gradually abandon the conversion of sugar cane to bring it back to its original function: to warm the hearts and souls at parties or family meals.

With the help of Caipirinha

Until a few years ago, cachaça was considered “the alcohol of the poor”. Practical to preserve in the disadvantaged places where fridges were less common (rural areas or favelas), it was the only outlet for some people. The recent popularity of Caipirinha around the world has changed the game.

Again, this cocktail was not invented recently. It is even thought that it dates from the early nineteenth century! At that time, the slaves simply boiled the sugar cane juice and drank “garapa” , a drink reserved for parties and celebrations. Then came the idea of ​​mixing the garapa with cachaça to acquire a certain intoxication and “meet the land of the dead“. This new mix was embellished with fruits or spices and called batida. One of these batidas, based on the addition of lime became Caipirinha. This new cocktail was imported to Europe in the twenties, especially to Paris where the writer Oswald de Andrade and his wife, the painter Tarsila do Amaral, organized large receptions with feijoadas and Caipirinha. With the help of technology, refrigerators made their debut in Brazil, and soon, the bars were able to serve ice-cold caipirinha and thus make it known and appreciated all over the world. Cachaça, was saved from oblivion.

The recognition of Cachaça

Apart from its major role in making caipirinha, cachaça continues to be drank pure. But, to use the words of Derivan de Souza, she is now out of the shadows to be reflected in the light of respectability. It has become a well-known alcohol thanks to the efforts of the producers who have become aware that they have in their hands a valuable little treasure.

The product has evolved considerably and has led to the creation of many brands, around 5000! The best cachaças are listed and classified, much like the wines in France, after blind tastings on the part of thousands of fans in Brazil. A final brings together the 50 most delicious, that tasters will rank in descending order.

One of the characteristics of cachaça is that it can be bottled immediately, but also aged in rare wood barrels: oak, balsamo, or the famous amburana (or umburana) which keeps its scent for a long time that it retransmits naturally to the cachaça that it holds. Matured in barrels, the best cachaças can reach high prices, at around 500 réais per bottle (about 120 euros)! The richness of the aromas has expanded over the years and, apart from being the main component of tasty cocktails, cachaça has gone from a formerly reserved alcohol to the world famous Brazilian spirit! 

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