One of the things people ask me most about is how long cachaça has been made.
Cachaça’s story began when the Portuguese brought sugar cane and their distillation techniques to Brazil in 1502. The first sugar mill was built soon after, sometime between 1516 and 1526, in Pernambuco.
Given the climate, sugar production and processing increased rapidly.
Unfortunately, there is no single cachaça origin story. But, there are three theories about where it was first made—most likely, a sugar plantation distilled the first cachaça between 1516 and 1532, somewhere along the coast. There are three likely locations where this occurred:
- In Pernambuco, in 1516
- In Bahia 1520
- Or in São Paulo, between 1532 and 1534,
However, there is some agreement that the earliest date and location is most likely correct.
After the 16th and 17th centuries, when sugar production significantly increased throughout São Paulo and Pernambuco, cachaça began to spread through Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. This occurred as those states saw population growth due to the discovery of gold and precious stones.
Cachaça's movement to different states would profoundly impact its development. Migrants, who wanted to consume or sell the product, placed silver cachaças in wooden barrels to be transported. Barrels made to transport cachaça in Brazil during this time would not have been made of oak since it was not a native species. Instead, barrels of various native woods were used, offering some sensory changes to cachaça.
Like other distilled spirits, cachaça was a significant currency in the slave trade and was used as a cudgel to coerce enslaved people. The connection between slavery and cachaça had profound and ongoing implications for the country. This summary of cachaça’s history doesn’t provide the context or space for delving into race and slavery in Brazil and the relationship to the country’s native distilled spirit. We will devote more space to this issue in the blog.
However, for many years, cachaça remained unappreciated by many Brazilians. In recent decades, however, Brazilians have rediscovered the importance of their spirit and sought to improve its quality and image. Significant events have contributed to the appreciation of cachaça and its recognition as a part of the nation’s heritage. In 1996, then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed a law recognizing cachaça as a typically Brazilian product, establishing manufacturing and marketing standards.
Today, there are about 1,000 distilleries spread across the country. Cachaça has always been characterized by small-scale production on family-run farms, which now occupy nearly every one of the country’s 26 states. Over the past decade, with increasing interest in raising production standards, cachaça has witnessed a renaissance not seen since its first production in the 16th century.
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