If you’ve not yet heard of or, more importantly, drunk cachaca, where have you been?
Brazil’s No. 1 distilled alcoholic beverage is a mule with a mean kick -- it’s colloquially
known as, among other things, “water that birds won't drink” and ”the one that killed
Despite those names -- or maybe because of them -- this sugarcane-based liquor is
gaining in popularity. Although 99% of the 2 billion litres of the liquor are left
for domestic consumption (11 litres per person, per year) exports are growing and
hit the 10-million-litre mark in 2000.
Cachaca is a national treasure in Brazil. Like champagne, its name is a denomination
of origin -- that is, true cachaca comes only from Brazil. Many other countries make
a similar distilled beverage known usually as aguardente.
You would be forgiven for confusing cachaca with rum -- at least on paper. The latter
is a product refined from either molasses or sugarcane juice and aged in oak barrels,
while cachaca is uniquely made from the sugarcane. The resultant brew is high in
alcohol -- between 38% to 48% -- and, like rum, used to be considered a peasant’s
drink. It is now, however, gradually gaining a toe-hold in the premium spirits market
where some of the best brands are consumed straight up and hold their own against
the finest rums and tequilas.
Travel throughout Brazil and sample any of the more than 5,000 brands of cachaca,
and you’ll see they fall into two broad categories: artisanal and industrial. The
first group -- artisanal cachacas -- are produced by small distillers throughout
the country (think micro-brew beers). Because of the care and time these distillers
put into their product, these cachacas are considered among the best in the country.
The beverage is still distilled in a copper pot and only the best part of the distilled
liquor -- the 20% known as “the core” -- is retained for aging.
Cachaca is aged in special wood barrels made from native or exotic trees like chestnut,
almond, balsam wood, cherry, and oak, and the manufacturers usually sell in small
quantities and usually only directly to the market.
Industrial cachacas, as the term suggests, are made in larger batches by larger manufacturers,
and their distillation process trades off some impurities for volume production.
The resulting distilled liquor is usually sold to a bottler who then alters the liquor
to suit its own standards. These cachacas are not aged and have a more fiery taste
-- like a poorer quality tequila or rum might -- and are usually considered to be
the fare of the lower class.
Like tequila or rum, you will also find white and gold versions of cachaca on the
market. The white variety is unaged and usually cheaper than the gold variety, which
tends to be smoother and more refined.
The Portuguese are said to have introduced cachaca to Brazil during colonial times
when plantation owners served the drink to their slaves to make them more productive.
As the drink became more popular, distillers began cropping up all over Brazil during
the 16th and 17th centuries. The drink gradually became more refined over the years,
and it wasn’t long before the stigma of the “slaves’ drink” wore off and people began
to drink it as they did any other liquor. After Brazil won independence from Portugal
in the late 1880s, cachaca came to be so ingrained in the national identity that
it was recognized as the country’s national drink and consumed widely. Today, there
are thousands of brands of cachaca on the market in Brazil, and it has been elevated
to the status of whiskey and wine in that country.
Find out what the major brands are and how to serve cachaca...
The major brands
When travelling in Brazil, keep an eye out for some of these best local brands.
This is the most popular brand of industrial cachaca in Brazil and makes up more
than 30% of the market share. Among the industrial brands, Cachaca 51’s production
methods are said to ensure the fewest impurities and the best quality.
Another of the most popular industrial brands, Pitu Cachaca is known for its light
taste. It makes a great base for cocktails.
This one is an artisanal cachaca, aged in oak for its most distinctive taste. It’s
a premium bottle, so don’t be surprised to find it wrapped in sugarcane leaves.
Pirapora is known as one of the highest-quality cachacas in Brazil. It’s aged for
three years in amendiom wood barrels and each bottle is individually numbered for
authenticity. Expect and enjoy an ultra-smooth, real premium drink from this one.
Sip it straight.
Santa Rae Cachaca Anejo
As its name suggests (anejo means “aged”), Santa Rae Cachaca Anejo is one of the
smoothest products on the market. This bottle has been double-distilled for extra
smoothness and has a unique flavour that’s well-received. Serve this one straight
How should you enjoy cachaca? Let the quality of the bottle be your guide and use
these handy recipes for some serving suggestions.
The traditional way to enjoy any cachaca is straight up. The locals will sip it in
a small glass and let the drink linger in their mouths to take in the whole flavour
of the drink, in much the same way Russians do with their vodka. Another way is to
serve it in a small, slim glass called a martelinho or “little hammer,” which causes
the alcohol to evaporate less quickly. The best cachacas should be served neat and
sipped as you would any premium spirit, but the less well-aged ones are more commonly
served in mixed drinks.
In a caipirinha
What the margarita did for tequila it’s said the caipirinha will do for cachaca.
This is Brazil’s No. 1 mixed drink. Made from cachaca, limes and sugar, it packs
the wallop of an angry mule.
In a quentão
A quentão is a hot drink made from cheap wine mixed with cachaca, ginger and spices.
The combination produces a strong scent, sharp taste and a rush to the head. A perfect
drink on a cold night.
In a leite de onça
For another cold-night drink, try “Jaguar milk.” Leite de onça is a mix of milk,
condensed milk, cinnamon, and cachaca.
A batida is a type of cachaca-based cocktail that combines fruit juice or fruit pulp
with cachaca, sugar and, occasionally, milk. Some of the principal flavours include
passion fruit, coconut and pineapple.
Brazilian booze at its best
It’s not hard to see why cachaca is such a popular drink in Brazil and why it’s on
the verge of exploding in the rest of the world. Some manufacturers do export to
the United States, but you’ll have to keep your eyes open or order it directly from
But if you’re a fan of distilled liquors, cachaca will not steer you wrong. Try just
one caipirinha and you’ll be hooked!