As far as I know, no one knows how old cachaça is. It’s difficult to pin down an exact year for its creation given the lack of recordkeeping. But, let’s say it’s got 500 years under its belt. Even off by a few decades, we can all confidently say that it’s centuries old. Thus, long before Brazil was a nation-state, cachaça was around. As an outsider, one would think this spirit would be venerated by the entire population.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. For a long time, the elites of Brazil considered cachaça a poor man’s drink. Because it was relatively inexpensive to produce and because the quality of production remained relatively low, many people didn’t take cachaça seriously. Those who drank the beverage got the name cachaçeiro, a pejorative, meant to describe someone who drank cachaça to excess. To drink cachaça became synonymous with being an impoverished drunkard. The name carried a weight from under which the recipient found it difficult to escape.
Now, however, an effort is being undertaken to destigmatize the term. Over the past couple of weeks, throughout the cachaça world, a new definition of cachaçeiro is being circulated. Instead of being a pejorative, a cachaçeiro is being defined as someone who appreciates and studies good cachaça. From small distilleries to large purveyors of cachaça, social media has been abuzz with this updated definition.
Why has it taken so long to do this? It seems obvious to me that cachaça is an important cultural institution that must be valued. But then, I didn’t live through the many down years when the liquor, and those who consumed it, were pariahs. There was, for a long time, little to no effort to create quality cachaça because it was a throw-away liquor. The national drink’s ascendancy can only be understood through this lens. Clearly, this has been a long, uphill fight, which is only now slowly being won by those in the cachaça community.
Undoubtedly, the increase in the quality of the product has had an impact on its perception. There is such great opportunity for cachaça. But it’s not going to be valued abroad if Brazilians themselves don’t value it. Fortunately, the community of producers and fans is rallying to push cachaça into a new age, one that will hopefully make it a star across the globe.