Cachaça is a liquor made from fermented sugarcane. It
is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. It is also known as
aguardente (aguardiente), pinga, caninha or other
names. Cachaça is mostly produced in Brazil.
Left: Bottles of cachaça.
Outside Brazil, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an
ingredient in tropical drinks, with the
caipirinha being the most famous cocktail.
Cachaça's alcohol strength anywhere
from 38% to 80% by volume. When it is homemade it can be as strong as the
distiller wants. Up to six grams per liter of sugar may be added.
Cachaça differs from rum in that most rum is made from
molasses. Use of molasses allows for the use of the byproduct of sugar
production and a smaller still but has the taste affected by heating. Cachaca
can be classified as a "rhum agricole" which is rum produced directly from cane
There are two types of cachaça: artisanal and industrial.
Artesanal cachaças are produced by thousands of small mills spread all over the
country. Traditionally, the fermentation agent is maize flour (called fubá
in Portuguese) and the distillation unit is a copper pot still. The resulting
product comes out in three phases: "heads", "hearts" and "tails". Most of the
makers take only the "hearts", discarding (or re-distilling) the other two which
have undesirable components. Then the beverage is either bottled or stored in
wood barrels for aging. The cachaça is aged in barrels made from a great variety
of native or exotic trees such as chestnut, umburana, jequitibá, ipê, grápia,
balsam wood, almond, jatobá, guanandi, brazilwood, cabreúva, tibiriçá,
garapeira, cherry, and oak.
Cachaça, like rum, has two varieties: unaged (white) and aged
(gold). White cachaça is usually bottled immediately after distillation and
tends to be cheaper. It is often used to prepare caipirinha and other beverages
in which cachaça is an ingredient. Dark cachaça, usually seen as the "premium"
variety, is aged in wood barrels and is meant to be drunk straight. Its flavor
is influenced by the type of wood from which the barrel is made.