Did you know Sugarcane distillates existed in 500BC? Do you know their first evidence was found in Taxila, which was then a part of India? Safe to say, what we know of Cachaca today, is amongst the world’s first spirits!!
Brazil’s most popular spirit is a rockstar, so lets talk about it.
The story begins in the 7th CE when the Portuguese were busy making sugar at their Madiera Islands. Juices were boiled, and left to ferment naturally, which created a black-green foam on the juice vats which was called cagaca.
Fast-forward to the 1500s, a Portuguese colonists brought the first seedlings of sugarcane to Brazil from the island. This is of course disputed. Some believe sugarcane already existed locally, while some records suggest the Portuguese brought it indeed. What is known with some surety is that in 1532, while Humayun was celebrating his victory over Sher Shah Suri in India, at a sugar mill in São Vicente area in Brazil, the Portuguese, who had already learnt distillation from the Arabs, got to work and created the drink locally.
Of course, Patent still was yet to be ‘patented’ so the juices were pot still distilled. It was a beautifully aromatic drink that was a tad potent and was thus destined for the slaves. But then it was refined over the years and went in to the urban populations too. While this made the locals happy, this did upset others, particularly the Europeans. They saw it as a competition, challenging Grappa.
THE REVOLTS THAT FOLLOWED
First the Portugueses tackled this by applying heavy taxes and levies on local distillers. But then this led to a revolt called the Revolta da Cachaça, in 1660. To further suppress, they banned its production, on 12th June 1744, which is today celebrated as the International Cachaça Day.
This upset the Brazilians enough to turn this into the fight of independence. And as a symbol of protest cachaca was served at the dinner meetings of the conspirators. Finally, Brazil became independent in 1822, so yeah, one can argue that Cachaca had helped “fuel” the movement.
IN RECENT NEWS
On an unrelated note, in 1959 an article suggested turkeys in Brazil were force-fed large amounts of cachaça before slaughter, the idea being that a drunk turkey was a relaxed turkey—and a relaxed turkey was a tender turkey.
In 2012, it was conferred with the ‘Cultural Historical Heritage’ seal. And in 2014, when Brazil hosted the Fifa World Cup, guess what day it was? It was on the International Cachaça Day! While all that is good, the trouble is some still categorise it as a Rum.
CACHACA ISN’T RUM
That’s just being lazy on their part. Unlike Rum, it doesn’t use any molasses, but the much gentler, aromatic, and fresh juices themselves. And when we say fresh, it must be fermented within 24 hours as per the local laws. And talking about law, much like Tequila and Mexico, or Feni and India, Cachaca can only be made in Brazil. Juices are heated, fermented, and distilled. Simple as that.
And yet this simple recipe goes by many names. In fact, there are over two thousands names for it!! It has been called the “abre-coração” or the heart-opener, “água-benta” meaning the holy water. Some even called it “bafo-de-tigre” which means the tiger’s breath. Today, there exist over 7000 distillers in the country, most of them operating at a craft and artisanal level. And over 90% of the produce is consumed locally. It’s safe to say Cachaca has evolved. Patent stills have come in too, and so has the influence of oaks. Common ones are Araúva, Amburana, Jequitibá, Balm, Peanut oaks
Yes, unaged ones are called branca, or prata and aged ones amarela or ouro
While there are bulk-produced Cachacas like the one in whose commercial John Travolta starred, mostly, they remain a craft beverage, like the one Snoop Dogg owns – Cuca Fresca
Another international recognition it has gained is in its use in a fun cocktail called Caipirinha.
So while you can have a Caipirinha, you can also have it in tiki cocktails, have it with chilled water, or with pineapple juice. Have it whichever way you like, but it can’t be ignored
And this national pride of Brazil certainly can’t be simply clubbed under the category – rum!