When I say Brazil, what do you think of?  Carnival?  Rain forests? Copacabana Beach?  Or maybe the exotic Latin cocktails for which Brazil is known, such as the ubuquitous caipirinha – practically the national drink of Brazil!  But there is more to caipirinha than meets the eye.  At its heart lies a spirit which is inextricably bound up in the history and national pride of Brazil.

The history of cachaça stretches back more than 400 years into Brazil’s colonial past.  It was invented by Portuguese settlers in Brazil in the region around the town of Sao Vincente, sometime between 1532 and 1548.  Workers at local sugar mills had acidentally discovered that the sugarcane juice, if cooked and left to stand, would ferment and turn into a mild alcoholic beverage.  The beverage, known as cagaca, was generally disparaged and only consumed by slaves, until somebody had the bright idea of distilling it to concentrate the flavours and increase the alcohol content, and thus cachaça was born. 

Initially, cachaça production was totally unregulated and distilleries began to spring up all over colonial Brazil in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Soon, there was enough being produced to attract the attention of the Portuguese authorities.  Fearing that cachaça might encroach on the lucrative market for Portuguese-made grappa, the Portuguese authorities in Brazil attempted several times to outlaw the manufacture and consumption of the spirit.  But after a century of waging an unsuccessful war on cachaça production and consumption, Portugal conceded defeat and instead, levied a tax on cachaça.  This tax proved to be very lucrative for the Treasury and contributed greatly to the reconstruction of Lisbon after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 1755.

You can read the rest of “Cachacas, a Brazilian Tradition” in the Summer Issue of WE Magazine for Women