Cachaça, also known as aguardiente de caña, is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. As such it shares some similarities with rum and was in fact sometimes called Brazilian rum until the term was dropped by legal agreement in 2013.
The drink is far and away the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil where they drink 396,000,000 US gallons of it annually (2007 figures). The rest of the world only gets 1% of that figure as an export, but it is beginning to catch on.
Originating on the island of Madeira, the process as well as the sugarcane itself was brought across the Atlantic to Brazil in 1532 by Portuguese colonizers and there it flourished.
Like rum, cachaça comes in two varieties – unaged (white) and aged (gold). The white has little or no aging to it, is less expensive and is usually used in cocktails – the most famous of which is the caipirinha. The gold is the premium version and is usually drunk straight. It is aged in wood barrels for up to three years. Ultra-premium cachaça can be aged up to 15 years. The major difference between cachaça and rum is that rum is usually made from molasses while cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled.
In the past, cachaça went through a period of being technically banned in Brazil, though still staggeringly popular. It was from this time that it acquired a number of picturesque nicknames such as abre-coraçâo (heart-opener), água-benta (holy water), bafo-de-tigre (tiger’s breath), and limpa-alho (eye-wash) as well as about 2,000 other quaint names.
So what about the caipirinha cocktail? It is very simple to make and has only three ingredients – cachaça, lime and sugar. Take half a lime and cut it into four wedges. Place the lime and 2 teaspoons of sugar in an old fashioned glass and muddle them. Then fill the glass with crushed ice and 2 oz of cachaça. It is as simple as that.
The name caipirinha, by the way, is a diminutive of the Brazilian-Portuguese word ‘caipira,’ meaning someone from the country – what we might call a hillbilly here. The cocktail came into being probably around 1918 and originally contained garlic and honey instead of sugar. At the time it was given to patients who were afflicted with Spanish flu. Even today, with sugar replacing the garlic and honey, it is sometimes used as a remedy for the common cold.
At any rate, cachaça is available at many of our ABC Fine Wine & Spirits stores and just in case you are still celebrating an Olympic Gold Medal or two, it is the perfect choice to toast our great athletes.
Bill Stobbs, ABC Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
Follow me on Twitter @abcwinebills