History of Cachaça
The history of cachaça is the history of Brazil. When Pedro Álvares Cabral touched down on the shore in 1500, he was the first European to land on this new continent in the New World. Just then, two new fads were sweeping Europe: sugar made from cane imported from the Far East and alcohol distilled in Arabic pot stills (the first record of whisky in Scotland is from 1496). So, the Portuguese brought both of these new technologies to their new territory where they have been maturing together ever since.
The indigenous peoples of the region had made alcoholic drinks for thousands of years, for both rituals and recreation. The most famous of these is Cauim, a fermented beverage made from chewed cassava root. It's still enjoyed in some corners of the country. But the technology to make high proof spirits like cachaça on the continent did not exist until it arrived with European settlers.
Before Rum, Cachaça
Gonçalo Coelho planted the first stalks of sugarcane in Brazil in 1502 and soon mills and stills sprouted along the coast, producing the first cachaças from raw cane juice that quickly fermented in the hot sun. More than a century later, settlers in the Caribbean figured out that they could squeeze a little alcohol out of the waste molasses left over from sugar production.
Drink of the People
As the colony of Brazil grew, the sugar industry spread plantations throughout the land and carried cachaça along with them. The Portuguese brought nearly one million slaves to Brazil and the spirit became a part of their daily ration. Within a century of its invention, Brazilians were drinking enough cachaça to worry the King of Portugal.
A Spirit Worth Fighting For
Portugal relied on the taxes from wine that was shipped to the colonies, but Brazilians preferred cachaça. So, Portugal tried to shut down the party, banning the production of the spirit. In protest, a group of distillers seized control of Rio in 1660 in what is now called the Cachaça Revolt. Portugal rolled back the law, but would try again and again to cut off cachaça. In 1720, there was another small revolt to defend cachaça in Pitangui, just down the hill from the Santo Antônio Ranch where Nossa is made. And producers around the country had to take a stand again in 1743, ultimately protecting cachaça.
Fazenda Santo Antônio Das Pitangueiras
The cornerstone of the Santo Antônio Ranch was laid in 1715 in Pitangui, a remote town in the quickly growing state of Minas Gerais. Valuable gold mines were opened around the region and Pitangui became a hub for cachaça production and distillation.
Spirit of Brazil
Every time Portugal banned cachaça, the sprit’s reputation as a unique product of Brazil grew. In 1789, inspired by the American Revolution, a group of Brazilians from Minas Gerais attempted to separate their country from Portugal. Though their revolution failed, one of the leaders, Tiradentes, called for a shot of his family’s cachaça on his deathbed, turning the drink into a symbol of Brazilian pride.
Age of the Caipirinha
Muddled lime, sugar, cachaça. We will never know who mixed them first, but the cocktails starts to show up on the record around the time that Brazil became an independent nation in 1822. It’s a rustic drink - Caipirinha is Portuguese for “little country girl,” - but an effective tonic for equatorial heat.
In 1922, Modern Art Week launched a new era of cachaça as luminaries from around Latin America agreed to drink only the Brazilian spirit. By the middle of the century, new technology allowed for mass production and soon cachaça became the third most widely consumed spirit in the world.
As industrial cachaça boomed, small producers like Zé and his family quietly ran their stills out in the country, keeping the traditions alive. As craft spirits gained popularity around the world, cosmopolitan Brazilians started to seek out the remaining artisanal cachaças to savor.
Not Rum, Cachaça
If you tried to buy cachaça before 2012, you would have asked for Brazilian Rum. But then American laws changed, recognizing the unique spirit of Brazil just in time for the Rio Olympics.