Though they took very different paths to nation-statehood, Brazil and the US share certain historical similarities. In the US, the Whisky Rebellion, a protest against a whisky tax during George Washington’s first term, is perhaps the most notable spirits-related insurrection. In Brazil, the Cachaça Revolt, which took place in 1660 and 1661 is, without question, the most famous spirits-related uprising.
In the late 1650s, Portugal outlawed cachaça production in Brazil (and, it should be noted, that September 13, the day of the original ban took effect, continues to be commemorated every year). The reason? It didn’t want competition with its wine sales. Brazil, at the time, was not securely under Portuguese reign. The French had just been removed and the Dutch still had a toe in Pernambuco.
As such, Brazilians of Portuguese descent weren’t necessarily that interested in distancing themselves from the crown. At the same time, they still wanted to keep producing their beloved sugarcane spirit. Unsurprisingly, local administrators turned a blind eye to ongoing production, even with the ban in place. That is, until Salvador de Sá, a powerful landowner, assumed control over Rio.
Sá at first placated the cachaça producers, allowing them to continue. Then, not more than a few months after assuming power, he changed his mind, having somehow been convinced by the crown that he had to do more to protect the Portuguese wine industry, and thus renewed the ban forcefully.
On November 8, 1660, wealthy landowners, who also happened to produce cachaça, gathered in front of Rio’s city hall. Needless to say, they had weapons, which they used to intimidate. These “rebels” took over the city and installed their own leadership. At the same time, they notified the Portuguese crown of their ongoing allegiance and accused Sá of not acting in their interests. Sá happened to be in Sao Paulo at the time and wasn’t allowed to return. A few months later, in 1661, Sá showed up with his own armed forces and recaptured the capital, thus officially ending the cachaça revolt. However, the Brazilian sugarcane spirit remained in production with the blessing of the crown.
This episode remains a much lauded one in Brazilian history, though, it should be noted that there wasn’t any hint of Brazil becoming independent of Portugal at this point, and there wouldn’t be for another 150 years or so. However, the revolt is, if nothing else, proof that cachaça has hundreds of years of street cred and has had a large, if somewhat unrecognized, economic and cultural impact for just as long.