Many countries have a quintessential spirit – the U.S. has bourbon, Mexico has tequila, Russia has vodka and Brazil has cachaça. As the South American nation’s most popular liquor, more than 800 million liters are produced annually.
Much like other spirits, cachaça must meet specific standards. It is required by law to be made in Brazil and must contain 38 to 48 percent alcohol by volume.
Cachaça is best known for its role in the caipirinha, a popular Brazilian drink. The cocktail is simple to prepare – smash lime slices in a glass with two teaspoons of sugar, ice cubes and a shot of cachaça. While many Americans have likely heard of or enjoyed a caipirinha, they may not know the history behind the drink and the liquor that completes it.
History of Cachaça
Portuguese settlers introduced sugar cane to Brazil in the 16th century. Farmers discovered that fermenting the plant produced a sweet-tasting liquor. It was often consumed by the African slaves who worked in sugar cane mills to dull their pain and give them energy during their strenuous work days. They named it cachaça for the foam that collected at the top of the cauldrons where sugar cane was boiled.
The spirit quickly became popular across Brazil, not just among slaves and the working class, as it was easy and cheap to make. Today, the process of making cachaça is more sophisticated, incorporating more than 20 types of Brazilian wood in the barrels the spirit is stored in to impart different flavors.
While cachaça has been around since the 1500s, the origin of the caipirinha is more recent. According to one theory, it was first made around 1918 using a blend of the liquor, lime, garlic and honey as a remedy for patients with the Spanish flu. The cocktail as we know it today is still used to treat the common cold.
How Cachaça is Made
Cachaça is often confused with rum, as both spirits are made from fermented sugar cane. However, cachaça is traditionally clear and undergoes a purer refining process, while rum is made from molasses – the dark brown, syrupy byproduct of the refinement process. Cachaça is also fruitier and cleaner in flavor than rum, which tends to taste caramelized.
Cachaça is made by washing sugar cane stalks and pressing them with metal rollers to produce a concentrated juice. It is then filtered to remove plant debris before yeast is added to begin the fermentation process, which takes one to three days. Distillation at high temperatures is the final step before it is bottled and sold.
Cachaça is classified by the way it is stored. If it is kept in a non-wood container, it is labeled “branca” (white). Sometimes it is called “clássica” (classic), “tradicional” (traditional) or “prata” (silver).
“Amarela” (yellow) cachaça is stored in a wood that changes its color. Producers may call it “ouro” (gold) or “envelhecida” (aged). If it is labeled as aged, at least 50 percent of its contents must have matured for a year or more.
Cachaça in Pop Culture
The beloved Brazilian liquor has begun to catch on in other countries, with many American and European bars now stocking a bottle of cachaça to mix up a caipirinha or even a Bloody Carioca – a South American take on the Bloody Mary.
Cachaça gained global attention in 2014, when the FIFA World Cup took place in Brazil. The opening day of the tournament happened to fall on International Cachaça Day, which is commemorated as the day that the Portuguese banned consumption of the spirit in 1744.
Cachaça even has a celebrity to thank for its popularity. Actor John Travolta showed off his dance moves in a commercial for Ypióca cachaça in 2013.
Enjoy the Flavors of Brazil at Boi Na Braza
Nothing goes better with a refreshing cachaça cocktail than delicious Brazilian barbecue. If you have never experienced the cuisine of this South American nation, you are in for a treat. From tender, fire-roasted steaks and oven-baked pão de queijo to fresh salads and mouthwatering desserts, Boi Na Braza offers diners a uniquely Brazilian culinary experience.