Elon International Studies: Brazil

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2004 Archives


Cachaca


Jess Byers

         Cachaca, the once “poor man's drink”, has started its way to becoming what seems to be an international sensation. To Brazil , this distilled liquor holds a great deal of cultural significance, even said to be ranking among the carnival and soccer as a Brazilian icon (Morgan 2004). The discovery of using Cachaca's to make what is now Brazil 's traditional drink, the Capirinha, lead to the increased popularity both in Brazil and around the world. Today Brazil 's once best kept secret is being served and exported around the world.

         The exact time production of Cachaca started is not known, but it is agreed that it was somewhere from 1530 to1550 in the Northeast area of Brazil (Sundquist 2002) . At this time Portugal , Brazil 's mother country introduced sugarcane into their economy as a cash crop. After the slaves harvested the sugarcane, they were allowed to let the leftover sugarcane juice ferment into alcohol. One of these slaves realized that by boiling and distilling this fermented juice, a more potent libation was produced. This was the birth of Cachaca (Morgan 2004). The name comes from the African translation for liquor (Sundquist 2002). Seeing how Cachaca was discovered and first drank by the slaves on sugarcane plantations, it is easy to see why it was considered the poor man's drink. The wealthy and elite stuck to their imported whiskeys and cognacs for their drinks.

         With the large amount of sugarcane available in Brazil , as well as the fairly simple distillation process, the production of Cachaca continued to grow. The process of production is relatively easy. First, producers have to crunch the sugar cane to extract the juice, ferment it for about 24 hours, and finally distill the results in a copper boiler till it forms an 80-proof substance. Most often the liquor is bottled right after distillation, but recently new varieties have started to age the liquor. (Morgan 2004). To add flavor and color they store the liquor in wooden barrels (Galanternick 2000). Barrels made from Brazilian wood or American and European oak give the Cachaca a smoother, rounder taste. Due to Brazilian legislation, the liquor must be stored in these barrels for at least one year and in the barrels can be no larger than 700 liters for the legitimate use of the “aged” appellation. Another form of Cachaca, called yellow Cachaca, is produced by directly adding caramel or wood extracts into the liquor to sweeten it without actually aging it (Morgan 2004).

         Cachaca is often mistakenly categorized as rum and even referred to as Brazilian Rum. Rum is distilled from molasses left over after sugar refinement, and Cachaca uses the juice directly from the sugarcane. Cachaca is technically a Brandy and a member of the aguardente family (Delta Tranlator). It is obvious from the merchants and bar tenders there that they take offense to people calling their national liquor simply a Brazilian rum. It isn't rum to them, and the name symbolizes more than the liquor, it symbolizes their culture.

         While this potent distilled sugarcane liquor might have started out at a poor man's drink, there is no denying the popularity and importance it has brought to Brazil 's economy in the recent years. Most likely, the thing that lead Cachaca to become such an integral part in Brazil 's cultural was its use as the primary ingredient in the cocktail called a Caipirinha. Caipiranas are made by mixing Cachaca with crushed limes, ice, and sugar to taste. It produces a potent sweet and zesty flavored alcoholic drink, now named Brazil 's national cocktail (Morgan 2004). You can get a caipirana at every place you go in Brazil , and they can even be made with a variety of different fruits. In the United States , people might say it is probable something like a Bud Light found at every bar and restaurant. It is the same with Brazil and the Caipirana. When the people there are dining or sitting at the bar, it is highly likely a large amount of them will be sipping on one of these drinks. Another leading influence in the rise of Cachaca consumption in recent years has been the opening on cachacarias in most of Brazil 's large cities. Cachacarias are restaurants and bars with extensive menus featuring hundreds of different Cachacas (Delta Translator). This here shows one of their famous Caipirana drinks.

         Whatever it was to transform Cachaca from the poor man's drink to the national icon it is today, the Brazilian economy is thankful. The exporting of Cachaca has dramatically inclined and the Caipirana has become a bestselling cocktail at bars across Europe, the United States , and Japan . Brazil has truly begun to tap into the pro-Cachaca movement and is taking efforts to increase their marketing efforts abroad (Sundquist 2002). With this abundance of international recognition the liquor has gained the Brazilian government has taken steps to impose several regulations on the liquor. Cachaca was established as the “official and exclusive” name for Brazilian “cane alcohol” by a decree signed in 2001 by then president at the time, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This decree lacked clear definition and didn't do a good enough job to prohibit the name of the use elsewhere. Therefore in 2003, the government issued yet another decree with greater specifications on the terms Cachaca and even the cocktail Caipirinha. The president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed the decree to clearly define both terms and specify them as strictly Brazilian in origin (Uchinaka 2004).

         Currently, Brazil produces 1.3 billion liters of Cachaca a year. Of that, less than 2 percent is exported elsewhere, mostly to Germany , France , Portugal , Japan , and the United States . While currently Brazil only exports around 11.1 million liters a year, the numbers are expected to reach well over 40 million in the next decade. Many programs have been launched to increase the amount of interest in the liquor and stimulate exports. In 2003, the Brazilian food industry launched the program the Central Taste of Brazil to stimulate exports by creating greater professionalization and publicity for the products (Agencia Brasil 2003). Another great effort to gain publicity on the world market is the annual Cachaca fair held in Sao Paulo . This fair is sponsored by Apex, an Export Promotion Agency, and works to bring in buyers from the United States , Portugal , South Africa , Argentina , and Russia . In 2004, The Brazil Cachaca fair hoped to gain $4 million in new business from the US . Right now Germany is the most faithful buyer of Cachaca from Brazil , taking in 30 percent of all Cachaca exported (Uchinaka 2004). Before going to Brazil I had never really heard of this liquor, but coming back to the United States I have already seen places it is gaining recognition in our country. I have seen capirinha's on drink menus and cachaca is fine liquor stores. The Brazilian liquor is making its move, and after trying just one capirinha it is easy for a person to see why. Here is a few of us girls sipping on some capirinha's at one of our favorite restaurants in Rio de Janerio.

Work Cited:

(Oct 2003) Brazil , Land of Cachaca . It's the Law. Agencia Brasil.
http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/1071/27/

Morgan, B. (2004). Brazilian Cachaca – TED Case Study #721. American University
http://www.american.edu/TED/cachaca.htm

Sundquist, J. (Nov 2002). High in Spirits. Brazzil Magazine .
http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/8276/75/

Uchinaka, F.(July 2004). Brazil wants the world drinking Cachaca. Agencia Brasil .
http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/2007/51/

Cachaca and Caipirinha. Delta Translator
http://www.deltatranslator.com/cachaca.htm