Cachaça Education, Part One

Cachaça Education, Part One

After last week’s discovery of how poor cachaça is doing in terms of exports, and realizing that the industry is simply not doing enough to convey anything of substance about cachaça outside of Brazil, I decided to go back to basics.

On this website, I have a brief description of what cachaça is. But I want to push a little more on what it is because, as I said last week, there seems to be some question about whether cachaça should be called rum.

For my purposes today, I want to point out the similarities and the differences to describe why I think it’s okay to call the Brazilian spirit cachaça.

First, the similarities.

  • Cachaça is made from sugarcane juice.

    • Some rums are made from sugarcane juice.

  • Cachaça can be distilled in pot stills or column stills.

    • Rum can be distilled in pot stills or column stills.

  • Cachaça can be unaged.

    • Rum can be unaged.

  • Some cachaça is aged in oak barrels.

    • Rum is aged exclusively in oak barrels.


In these similarities, one can begin to see the differences. Most rum is made from sugarcane byproducts such as molasses. The second difference is that rum is aged, not necessarily by law, but by custom, in oak barrels. Cachaça is aged in more than thirty different types of wood barrels, including oak.

Besides these differences, according to U.S. law, rum is any spirit “distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane by-products at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof).

Contrast this with Brazil’s legislation which defines cachaça as a spirit between 38% and 48% ABV, using only sugar cane juice, and you see the distinction, and why cachaça cannot call itself Brazilian rum, even under U.S. law.

To some, these are semantics. Distilled alcohol made from sugarcane, or byproducts, is the blanket understanding of rum and cachaça. But that is superficial. There are real differences, under law and custom, that should be taken seriously. That the cachaça industry hasn’t done a great job of educating the public doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The ship has already sailed on creating a Cognac-like aura around cachaça. However, that doesn’t mean alcohol consumers can’t come to appreciate cachaça for what it is: a uniquely Brazilian, sugarcane-based spirit, with a flavor palate broader than any other liquor in the world.

Next week, we will get into the process cachaça production, in particular, pot-distilled cachaça, to understand how it is made.

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