Best known around the world for the Caipirinha, here is the essential guide to Cachaça, the spirit of Brazil.
What is Cachaça
Cachaça (pronounced ka-shah-sa) is a spirit from Brazil which is fermented and single distilled from fresh sugarcane juice. Its production is three times larger than all rums combined in the world, namely 99% of the market is in Brazil, followed by Germany then France. Cachaça also ranks third in production after vodka and soju.
What Does the Word “Cachaça” Mean
The production of cachaça dates back to the time around the 1530s when the Portuguese brought sugarcane cuttings and stills to Brazil to distil sugarcane juice. The name cachaça is said to be the term given to fermented sugarcane juice by the slaves at the time called cagaça (dark green liquid). Another version attributes it to cachaço a choice of salted fatty pork parts where sugarcane spirit was used to additionally soften the meat.
By law, artisanal cachaça can only be produced in Brazil and must have between 38% to 48% ABV. To qualify for the “aged” appellation, Brazilian legislation states that cachaça must be aged for a minimum of one year in barrels sized between 100 and 700 litres. Aguardente de cana is distilled between 38% and 54% ABV and is an industrial spirit of lower quality.
Industrial cachaça uses machine-harvested sugarcane from pre-burnt fields which is machine-pressed and fermented using chemical yeasts and then distilled in column stills with an ABV of 38% to 54%.
Cachaça producers in the state Mina Gerais have created AMPAQ (Associação Mineira dos Produtores de Cachaça de Qualidade), an association of producers which grant quality brands such as Germana Cachaça a seal of quality and a batch number.
How is Cachaça Made: Industrial vs Artisanal Cachaça
Unlike rum which is made from sugarcane molasses, Cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled. There are approximately 30,000 cachaça distilleries in Brazil where 90% are industrial and 10% are artisanal.
Industrial cachaça uses machine-harvested sugarcane which is machine-pressed and fermented using chemical yeasts then distilled in column stills.
Artisanal cachaça is mainly produced in the state of Minas Gerais where the sugarcane is harvested by hand using machete. The juice must be extracted within 24 hours of harvest, fermented using wild yeast in open vats, and distilled once in copper pot stills. There are two classifications for artisanal cachaça depending on whether it is the product of wild fermentation or made using the method of caipira, a combination of sugarcane juice and a cereal, mainly maize flour.
How Cachaça Differs from Agricole Rhum
Aside from terroir and the type of sugarcane that is grown, agricole rhum bears similarities with industrial cachaca in that both are machine-harvested and crushed to extract sugar cane juice, yeast is added for fermentation and the spirit is column distilled. Agricole rhum can have a higher ABV than cachaça and has a resting period of three months.
Flavour Profile of Cachaça: Aged and Unaged
Germana Cachaça (meaning purity and one of a kind in the Brazilian dictionary) is an artisanal cachaça made in the state of Minas Gerais. It is produced from estate-grown sugarcane cut by hand using machetes and immediately transported to the distillery where it is processed through the only electrical machine to extract the juice. Fermentation is dependent on the weather as it is a natural process with yeasts made of maize planted at the fazenda and can take between 18 to 24 hours. The “sugarcane wine” is then distilled in a copper still.
- Germana Soul is an unaged white cachaça, non-charcoal-filtered and rested in stainless steel vats for at least 6 months. It has an aromatic bouquet with grassy, herbaceous and fresh notes, a little sweet and smooth on the palate with a viscous mouthfeel.
- Recommended serve: sip neat out of the freezer, use in caipirinhas and caipifrutas (caipirinha with all kinds of fruit).
- Germana Caetanos cachaça is aged for two years in umburana barrels, a native Brazilian type of cherry tree which give the spirit a unique character with a pale yellow hue, fruity aromas of cinnamon, tonka nut, coconut, bison grass and caramel flavours.
- Recommended serve: sip neat out of the fridge, red fruit caipifrutas like strawberry and raspberry and batidas.
- Germana 2 anos is aged for two years in French Oak barrels which impart a sweeter, tropical fruit notes with caramel notes and subtle oak, characteristics which make it popular with women in Brazil.
- Recommended serve: sip neat or use in a caipirinha.
- Germana Heritage is a 10 year old cachaça aged for eight years in French Oak barrels then for two years in Balsam barrels which softens the oaky character and aroma and yields a slightly drier spirit due to the time it spends on oak.
- Recommended serve: best sipped neat on the rocks with the green part of a lime zest.
How to Drink Cachaça
The Caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil made by gently muddling lime wedges with white sugar in a short glass, then adding ice and cachaça. Another popular cocktail is the Batida, made with cachaça, condensed milk, coconut milk, fruit and sugar.
Unaged cachaça is generally used in cocktails such as Caipirinha while aged cachaça is often sipped neat or chilled from the fridge.
Cachaça Drink Holidays
National Cachaça Day is celebrated every year on 13 September. Starting in 2017 and running annually, Caipirinha Week, a celebration of the Brazilian spirit will take place in Australia 40 days before Easter coinciding with Carnaval in Brazil.
In partnership with Cerbaco, distributors of Germana Cachaça in Australia.
Photo Credit: Supplied.