How Cachaça became a brand of Brazil

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brazilian cachaça spirit drink exports

Brazilian Cachaça

Whether you’re in the U.S., Europe, or Asia – any bar worth its salt will serve a caipirinha, the trademark Brazilian mix of lime, sugar, ice… and cachaça. Today, the distilled spirit has become trendy, as people worldwide will embrace anything that carries the label “authentic” or “artisanal.” However, Brazil’s national spirit, made from sugarcane juice, went for decades, or centuries even, relegated to bottom-shelf status.

Due to its low production costs and cheap retail price, cachaça spent centuries as a marginalized drink, stereotyped as alcohol for the lower classes, unable to afford the more expensive whiskeys or vodkas imported from Europe and enjoyed by Brazil’s upper classes. In the last few decades, however, there is a movement underway to recoup cachaça’s value.

Despite its origins as a drink for the poor, cachaça is no longer necessarily cheap. Now, consumers can find posh cachaças with a variety of flavors; aged cachaças; even organic ones.

The branding makeover – which still has a long way to go, according to the Brazilian Cachaça Institute (Ibrac) – started back in the 1980s,

as producers began working together to bring a better, more refined product to the market. And the Brazilian state helped in these efforts, especially with two initiatives: the creation, in 1997, of the Brazilian Program to Support Aguardente, Caninha, and Cachaça, and a 2001 decree that established the spirit as a product with protected origin.

Strict legislation has been put into place to protect the Brazilian label. Considered to be a part of the country’s cultural heritage, the traditional know-how and production processes behind cachaça are heavily regulated, much like the designations for bourbon, champagne, and cognac. Since 2001, the worldwide promotion of cachaça is one of the priorities of the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil).

Booming market

The efforts have proven to be successful, as the brand is starting to take off internationally. During the recent economic recession, producers saw domestic sales drop by at least 4 percent – while exports grew by 8 percent during the same period.


brazilian cachaça spirit drink exports revenue


In 2017, the sector generated over BRL 10 billion in revenue. Exports to over 60 countries amounted to, last year alone, almost 9 million liters, a revenue of USD 15.8 million. Both figures represent a 13-percent growth in value and 4-percent growth in volume sold abroad. Of course, events like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics only helped to raise the status of Brazil’s signature cocktail.

The U.S. alone accounts for 18 percent of exports. Still, until 2013, cachaça was (mistakenly) referred to as Brazilian Rum in the United States – but unlike the Caribbean drink, it is distilled from sugarcane juice rather than the syrup. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau only recognized cachaça as a genuinely Brazilian product five years ago.

According to the latest agricultural census, Brazil has over 11,000 cachaça producers – 90 percent of which are unofficial. Only 1,500 are properly registered with the Ministry of Agriculture. The path to reduce such levels of informality, according to Carlos Lima, Ibrac’s diretor, is by simplifying the taxes on spirits – a market dominated by cachaça sales.


Today is Cachaça Day. We tell the story of how Brazilian producers and the government pushed the spirit from bottom shelves to hype status worldwide.


Mr. Lima says the sector has yet to recover from a tax bump promoted by the government in 2015. As a matter of fact, he credits the decreasing consumption of the spirit in Brazil to the rise in prices that followed the new taxes. “Producers can’t handle more tax raises. It’s too much,” he told EBC, Brazil’s state-owned communication company.

How Cachaça came to be

Distilled from sugarcane juice, the history of cachaça is connected to the history of Brazil. Its production began in 1530, three decades after the Portuguese arrived on our shores. You could say that the spirit chronicles different periods of our colonization: the sugarcane to produce cachaça arrived from Asia; the distillation know-how came from the Portuguese, and it was manufactured by slaves, who were taken from Africa to labor in mills in the Northeast. It was thanks to these slaves that the drink was first created and popularized.

Cachaça has different regional nicknames, like aguardente (burning water) or pinga (a drop). There’s a dark legend behind these names. During the process of making the sugar syrup, some of the liquid would allegedly condense on the ceiling. When it dripped, the alcohol would burn the backs of wounded slaves – hence, “burning water” and “drop.”

Even though the production of cachaça is tightly controlled, the ways in which Brazilians appreciate it vary from region to region. In the area of Brazil that first produced sugarcane, people prefer to drink it neat. In other areas, it is customary to produce aromatic cachaças using different types of fruit. We not only enjoy it at parties in cocktails such as the caipirinha, but also on its own as an apéritif or digestif.

This Brazilian spirit is also considered sacred. In African religions, cachaça is the drink of choice for the warrior spirits Exu and Ogum. And in Catholicism, cachaça’s biggest fan is Saint Onuphrius. Some Catholics anoint (or even immerse!) statues of the saint with cachaça to thank Onuphrius for his bestowing of graces.

But obviously, the most famous way to enjoy it is in our national cocktail, the caipirinha. You can learn to make it in the video below. Saúde!

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The Brazilian Report

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