Cachaça is the National Spirit of Brazil
Every country or region in the world has its own iconic spirit. Each one with its own unique flavors, traditions, stories, and recipes. Mexico has Tequila, Scotland has Scotch, France has Champagne, and the U.S has Bourbon. In Brazil, Cachaça is king. While not well known throughout the world, in Brazil there are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of this delicious spirit.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS CACHAÇA?
It is a Brazilian distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice and has a flavor reminiscent of Rum but is more vegetal and robust in nature. Rum and Cachaça are actually like “cousins” as they both come from sugar cane. The difference between them is that Cachaça is made from raw sugarcane juice, while Rum is usually made from molasses.
Rum is more well known around the world but Cachaça actually came about first. It’s production dates back to the 1500’s when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil and has been a mainstay in Brazilian culture ever since. Rum was distilled a couple hundred years later in other parts of the Americas, specifically the Caribbean.
How Cachaça is Made
For a really long time here in the United States, anytime you saw a bottle of Cachaça anywhere it was usually labeled as Brazilian rum. Not only is that really misleading but it’s also just wrong. Cachaça and Rum have a similar origin story but they are definitely not the same spirit. Both cachaça and rum both technically come from the same plant, Sugar Cane to be exact, but just in different ways.
Cachaça is a spirit that’s distilled from the freshly pressed sugar cane juice whereas rum is a spirit distilled from molasses. When they make sugar they take sugar cane and press it and refine the juice into those nice white sugar crystals. At the same time that it makes sugar, it also makes molasses as a byproduct. So to make rum they take that molasses and they ferment & distill that. Rum tends to have a little bit more of a perceived sweetness about it, while its Brazilian Cousin is usually more vegetal and grassy in nature.
Taste of Cachaça
Just like with any spirit, the flavor of Cachaça can vary greatly depending on the quality of production. Like any spirit, Cachaça has some iconic cocktail recipes that make great use of its natural flavors. The Caipirinha is the first one that comes to mind, and for very good reason. It is the most well known Brazilian cocktail ever invented! It is drank all over Brazil and has had success across the world. Of course the Caipirinha isn’t the only Cachaça based cocktail, even if it is the most well known and praised.
There are many other fantastic cocktails made with this incredible spirit such as the excellent Batida. I’ve always been fascinated by Cachaça’s versatility. It’s normally compared to Rum due to their shared origin, but with a funkiness not unlike that of Tequila or Mezcal. It can even be aged and treated like a Whiskey.
Yet despite that versatility, many bartenders I’ve met have never even heard of it. Most don’t know what it is or how to use it. Plenty of bars I have worked in simply didn’t carry the spirit at all, and as a Brazilian bartender that never sat well with me.
I want to show that there is a space for Cachaça in the American Cocktail scene. A good Cachaça can stand up to any decent whiskey, tequila or rum and deserves its spot on any bar shelf.