By Rachel Arthur
For those who know Cachaça, it is usually associated with a Caipirinha cocktail. But the drink has far more to offer: and promoting the diversity and versality of the Brazilian spirit to bartenders, distributors and consumers can help it achieve its potential globally.
While much loved in Brazil, the spirit Cachaça is still relatively unknown outside the country. But the growth of cocktail culture – as well as consumers looking to explore new tastes and categories – is helping it grow in global markets.
IBRAC (Instituto Brasileiro da Cahaça / Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) and the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil) are on a two-year project to increase knowledge about Cachaça in international markets.
Cachaça (pronounced 'kha-shah-sah') is a sugarcane spirit produced in Brazil and exclusively sourced from the fermented must of sugarcane juice, with an ABV between 38% and 48%.
The origins of Cachaça can be traced back to the colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.
It is believed to have been initially distilled at a sugar mill on the coast of Brazil between 1516 and 1532, making it the first distilled beverage to be made in Latin America, preceding development of more well-known spirits such as Pisco, Tequila, Bourbon and Rum.
For those who know Cachaça, it is often associated with a Caipirinha cocktail. But its potential goes beyond this, Carlos Lima, Executive Director, Brazilian Institute of Cachaça, told BeverageDaily.
“Cachaça is far more than the Caipirinha!" he said. "The versatility of Cachaça in cocktails has demonstrated that it is just as good as vodka, gin or rum for a variety of cocktails."
That might mean being part of a pink cachaca (with watermelon and ginger); venga (lemon and apple); banana tonton; or even an oyster cocktail.
“In addition, Cachaça is the only spirit in the world that is aged in casks or barrels of over 30 different types of wood," said Lima.
"The process of using wood of different types for aging/storage tinkers with the taste perception of those who experience these outstanding Brazilian gems.
“Brazilian woods such as Jequitibá, Amburana, Ipê, Pau-Brasil or woods that are not native to Brazil, such as American or European Oak, impart unique nuances to our spirit.”
The current tally of registered Cachaça producers in Brazil is approximately 1,000, with production capacity of around 1.2 billion litres a year.
Producers range from small distilleries through to multinational companies.
And this also contributes to the diversity of Cachaça; as does the geographical distribution and cultural influences and traditions across the country.
“Cachaça transmits Brazil's rich cultural heritage and diversity due to the fact that it is produced throughout the country, from north to south and east to west," explained Lima.
"The diversity of the Brazilian nation is reflected in the variety of flavors and aromas that each Cachaça produced in each region brings to consumers.”
Free Trade Agreement to help boost exports
Despite the size of the category in Brazil, the drink is still little known outside the country.
"Consumers, bartenders and distributors are still unaware of the versatility of this Brazilian spirit or the different ‘types’ of Cachaça, such as those aged in over 30 different types of wood. It is part of our strategy to show them the great plurality and wealth of the universe of Cachaça,” said Lima.
The top export markets for Cachaça are the US, Germany, Paraguay, France, Portugal and Italy (in value terms the US is the largest; while in volume terms Portugal tops the list). And these countries – alongside the UK – show potential for future growth.
"Cachaça is full of new possibilities for those who are tired of the traditional," said Lima.
“Markets such as the US and UK represent great opportunities for consolidation and recognition of Cachaça as a versatile drink with a Brazilian soul: especially due to the growth of the cocktail culture and also because people in these markets are open to new experiences.
“The UK has a great potential to become an important market for Cachaça, in particular due to the habit of consuming spirits and the strong cocktail culture.
“Italy is also an important market for the alcoholic beverage sector. It is a promising European market with growth potential and, as a commercial and cultural centre, is propitious to a consumer market for Cachaça.”
Exports have also managed to weather the pandemic.
“Looking at the export figures for 2020, even under the scenario of COVID-19 and with the general drop in exports, we had growth in exports to a few countries including France and Germany."
Cachaça is currently geographically protected in Chile, Mexico, the US and Colombia.
Once the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the EU comes into force, Cachaça should be protected as a Geographical Indication of Brazil in the EU: strengthening its position on the continent and awareness among consumers.