Thursday, April 15, 2010

Everything You Wanted To Know About Cachaça But Were Afraid To Ask

In recent years, the fame of Brazil's national cocktail, the caipirinha, has spread beyond the borders of the country, and these days caipirinhas are available in bars and restaurants from Miami to Montreal to Mumbai to Munich. And with the increasing international popularity of this cocktail, the export market for the Brazilian liquor, cachaça, which is the base of the drink, has increased dramatically. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was virtually impossible to find cachaça outside Brazil. Today it's available in better liquor stores world wide (though often at prices that are many times the domestic Brazilian price).

The domestic market for cachaça is still many times larger than the export market, but much of the growth of the total market is in exports. And there's still a lot of room for growth there. According to 2007 figures, domestic consumption of cachaça in Brazil was 1.5 billion liters (390 million gallons). The same year international consumption was 15 million liters (4 million gallons). That's to say that 99% of worldwide consumption of cachaça occurs in Brazil, and the rest of the world consumes 1%.

Cachaça (also known in Brazil as aguardente, pinga, and caninha among other names) is legally defined by the Brazilian legislature as "the typical and  exclusive denomination of the product of the distillation of fermented sugarcane juice, produced in Brazil, with alcoholic strength anywhere from 38% to 80%. at 20 degrees Celsius." What distinguishes cachaça from rum, which is also a distillation of a sugar product, is that rum is distilled from molasses and cachaça is distilled directly from unrefined sugarcane juice.

Just like rums, there are two basic types of cachaça. There are those that have not been aged after distillation, or have been aged for a short time in steel vats. These cachaças are colorless liquids, tend to be less expensive, lighter in flavor, and are most commonly used in cocktails like the caipirinha. The other type of cachaça is those that have been aged in wood. They range in color from light blond to dark brown, are more expensive and flavorful, and are meant for sipping, like whisky, although the lighter aged cachaças are often used to make caipirinhas.

Brazilian cachaças, of which there are thousands, are divided into two basic groups - artisanal and industrial. There are many small cachaça producers scattered everywhere in Brazil, making limited quantities of cachaça for mostly local distribution, and some of these are very good indeed, and valued by connoisseurs of cachaça. However, the great majority of cachaça production comes from the huge industrial producers, such as Ypioca, Pitú,  Sagatiba and 51.

In Brazil, there are cachaças for every occasion and every demographic. The most basic cachaças are very cheap, and a 32 oz. (1 liter) bottle sells in corner stores and supermarkets for 3 to 4 reais (approximately USD $1.80 to $2.50). On the other hand, an aged cachaça from a small, artisanal distillery may cost $R100 (USD $55.00). Incidentally, those bottles of cachaça that North Americans and Europeans find in their markets for $55 are not those that cost $55 in Brazil, they are those that cost $2.00 in Brazil!

In upcoming posts, I'll provide the recipe for some delicious cachaça cocktails, and reviews of specific brands. Bottoms up!

(For a very informative and ientertaining blog on all things cachaça, check out Cachaçagora, written by a Chicago cachaçophile).

1 comment:

  1. Cachaça won its name in the U.S.!! If you want to buy cachaça directly from the source, there are many Brazilian distillers that sell internationally. And most of these distillers either sell their own brand or will sell a “white label” for their clients. Brazilian cachaça distillers can be found using, Brazil's top B2B trade portal. contains over 20 cachaça distillers, many of which will produce “white label” productions for their clients’ brands. As global taste and demand for cachaça grows, the future for cachaça is bright.