The History of Cachaça
The story of cachaça’s beginnings is not a happy one. Production first began in the 1500s when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, bringing sugarcane with them. The local peoples, whom the Portuguese enslaved and forced to work in sugar production, were probably the first to recognize sugarcane juice could be fermented to create alcohol that would make the work more bearable. Aside from slavery and sugarcane, the Portuguese invaders also imported stills, which the workers used to distill the fermented sugarcane juice. And so, cachaça was born.
Rather than try to curb drinking among their “employees,” sugar plantation owners encouraged it. In fact, they were known to provide slaves with cachaça rations in order to pacify them. The drink quickly became synonymous with the working class. Eventually, though, the Brazilian elite caught on, and the whole country embraced cachaça as the national spirit.
How Is Cachaça Made?
Cachaça is distilled from freshly pressed, raw sugarcane, which is fermented with yeast. The resulting “sugarcane wine” is then distilled just once. Mass-produced cachaças are distilled in column stills, but a recent, global interest in craft cachaça has led some distillers to opt for older, more artisanal devices, such as alembic copper pot stills. Occasionally, distillers age cachaça in wood barrels made not only from oak but also indigenous woods like aburana, balm and canarywood. Typically, cachaça is bottled and sold at 38-54% ABV.