School 3: High alcohol content

School 3: High alcohol content

art of an on-going series analyzing Mapa da Cachaça’s “schools.”


As we continue our journey through Mapa da Cachaça’s schools, we reach what they term, the brutal or high alcohol content movement. Before we talk about this further, it’s important to consider a few things. First, no distilled spirit in Brazil can have higher than a 54% ABV. It’s illegal. I can attest to the fact that you won’t find a distilled spirit in any legitimate store above 54 ABV. Second, cachaça, which is a type of aguardente, must be between 38% and 48% ABV, so it is required by law to have a lower alcohol content.


Now, most of us are used to distilled spirits that have an ABV of 40%. However, we’re also used to higher alcohol content products in the US. Plenty of spirits go above and beyond 40. So, we’re not shocked by high alcohol percentage, even among popular spirits like bourbon. They’re not unique or unusual.


So, when Mapa da Cachaça tries to separate a product with higher alcohol content into a different category, well, it seems strange to a gringo.


To go back to last week’s discussion of fermentation, I think it’s probably better to talk about alcohol content in general, and the various choices producers make. Some producers prefer a much lower alcohol content, below 40%, while an even smaller number prefer a much higher alcohol content, closer to 48%. But, most remain in the middle somewhere.  These are choices, of course. Producers decide what alcohol content best suits their product.


My experience, although not backed by solid data, is that there are regional differences amongst producers who favor lower or higher alcohol content in their products. The south of Brazil, from my experience, produces lower alcohol content cachaça, while the Northeast of Brazil produces higher alcohol content cachaça. The rest of Brazil is a mix, with most producers somewhere in the middle. I wish I could say that I have a plan to dig deeper into alcohol content by region, but I don’t. And feel free to comment if you believe I’ve made a mistake.


While “high alcohol content” cachaça may be a school, so is low alcohol content and so is average alcohol content. We can’t have one without the other. There’s no day without night after all. So, my major complaint with this “school” is that there is no counterpoint to it.

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