Cachaça, the most known and consumed distilled beverage or spirit in Brazil, is the main ingredient for a good Caipirinha. But there are no limits to the mixes and cocktails it can be an ingredient of. Above all, cachaça can also be tasted straight, as the aromas and flavors vary from labels and distilleries.
This national spirit is to Brazil what tequila is to Mexico, what vodka is to Russia, and what bourbon is to the United States.
The name “cachaça” is typical and exclusive of sugarcane spirits produced in Brazil, with an alcohol content of 38% to 48% by volume, obtained by the distillation of fermented must from sugarcane juice with peculiar sensory aspects, which can be added with sugars up to 6 grams per liter. Cachaça is a kind of “aguardente” (brandy or liquor), though not all aguardentes are cachaça. Since 2001, it is acknowledged as a national product, having a seal of Geographical Indication established by a presidential decree.
“In addition to all its historical and cultural importance for our country, the production of sugarcane spirit and cachaça in Brazil generates many direct and indirect jobs, and moves millions in the economy,” highlights Eduarda Lee, a technical advisor at the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil (CNA).
There are more than 20 different types of wood for aging cachaça, as well as a range of genuine local ingredients to be mixed with it. Cachaça is so intrinsic to the local culture and history that Brazilians have more than 100 terms or expressions to call it. Most popular names include “pinga,” “água-benta,” “malvada,” “cana,” “branquinha,” and “mé”.
From multinationals, to large brands and small local ones, more than 4 thousand labels are currently acknowledged by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Supply (MAPA). Production is spread across 25 out of the 27 Brazilian states, including the Federal District.
Despite the initial damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to the sector, in 2020, over 5.5 million liters were exported to 83 countries, according to an assessment by the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça (IBRAC). It estimates the country’s production capacity at approximately 1.2 billion liters per year. Currently, less than 800 million liters are produced annually, and a massive part of that, around 99%, stays in the country. In 2020, exports of sugarcane spirit and cachaça generated revenues of US$ 9.5 million to Brazil.
Brazil in a bottle
Cachaça is the first distilled liquor in the Americas. Although there is no accurate record of the real place where the first distillation was obtained, it is believed to have taken place in some sugar mill located on the coast of Brazil, between the years 1516 and 1532. Thus, cachaça has emerged before pisco, tequila, and rum.
“Each cachaça is a new experience that only Brazil produces. We have cachaça from North to South, and its consumption is democratic: all classes appreciate it. Besides that, there are endless ways to prepare and drink it,” says Carlos Lima, president of IBRAC. “More than just showing Brazilian diversity, cachaça is Brazil in a bottle.”
It is estimated that 98% of the national production of cachaça and aguardente is in the hands of small and medium producers. According to data from the 2021 Cachaça Yearbook published by MAPA, in 2020, 1,131 establishments producing sugarcane spirit and cachaça were listed with valid registrations. “More and more work has been done for the recognition and greater appreciation of the product not only in the domestic market but also globally,” defends Eduarda Lee.
Founded by three friends in 1938, in a small town in Pernambuco, Northeast of Brazil, Pitú became the second most consumed cachaça in the country and one of the best known internationally.
The company is now in its fourth generation. They started exporting back in the 1970s to Germany, and, from there, they found their way to other European countries. In the 1980s, Pitú arrived in the US and, today, it is present in more than 50 countries.
The company’s foreign trade coordinator, Leila Lopes, has been with Pitú for almost 20 years and highlights how the cachaça is the basis of the local economy.
She says that although the spirit needs no explanation for Brazilian drinkers, in other countries, where people are not so familiar with it, the public needs to be educated. “We always reinforce that it can be consumed in different ways. And that if you don’t have a tropical fruit for a cocktail, you can use a local fruit or mix it with other flavors. Cachaça is versatile, and it is open to all tastes.”
Evandro Weber, the director of Weber Haus, a distillery located in Ivoti, a city in the Rio Grande do Sul state, also knows how important it is to show the ways cachaça can be used in drinks.
“I have been participating in fairs and tasting events since 2007. Most people from abroad don’t know much about cachaça, so we have to show them it’s much more than caipirinha.”
The Weber Haus is a premium cachaça whose main differential is the blends of wood used in aging the liquor. It was founded in 1824 by German immigrants who settled in the South of Brazil. Nowadays, it produces around 600 thousand bottles of cachaça per year, as well as other 70 beverage products.
It all started at the bar
In one of the most beautiful ecotourist centers in the country, the city of Bonito, in the Mato Grosso do Sul state, Andrea Fontoura opened a bar to receive friends. It was 1996 when she started to mix aguardente and cachaça with herbs and serve the drinks at the counter.
Some clients became fans of her cocktails, and the Taboa drink soon came to be not only a fix in the menu but also the name of the bar.
“It all started at the counter. I didn’t start with stills or wanting to produce cachaça. I wanted to please my customers. Then, some tourists liked the drink I prepared, I began to bottle it, and things started happening,” remembers Andrea.
The Taboa bar is more than a friendly bar and an aguardente producer. Though small, the company is responsible for social initiatives and for promoting the development of sustainable tourism.
“We are organizing things to begin exporting our cachaça, but our main focus is always the people. I want to grow, but not alone. Our way up has to bring the community with us,” says Andrea.