A quintessential Brazilian spirit, cachaça seeks further recognition

The distilled beverage is exported to over 60 countries

Published in 23/09/2019 - 10:18 By Andreia Verdélio - Brasília

Known by various names and nicknames, the cachaça, a traditional Brazilian distilled spirit from fermented sugarcane, is part and parcel with Brazil’s history. Nonetheless, the sector is still trying to bring the acknowledgment it deserves as a beverage and a national symbol.

Carlos Lima, executive director of the Cachaça Institute of Brazil (Ibrac), believes “Brazilians are still not familiar with the versatility and richness of the drink, which is still marginalized and subject to prejudice. People still prefer to drink other beverages, because they think it’s more glamorous than drinking a quality drink, which is exclusively Brazilian.”

Major export item

One of the challenges is to promote cachaça overseas as a genuinely Brazilian asset, with its source specified.

This year, the cachaça gained the acknowledgment and protection of the Geographical Indication by the European Union (EU), following the signing of a deal between Mercosur and the European bloc. Tax cuts also tend to boost trade with this competitive market. Up to the moment, only four countries protected the denomination of cachaça: Colombia, the US, Mexico, and Chile.

More important than financial gains, Lima argued, is the intangible protection of this asset. “Acknowledgment from the EU is a valuable message from the birthplace of geographical indications, where champagne, stotch whisky, and parma are from. Now they’re giving recognition to cachaça. This is extremely important,” he declared.

“The geographical indication aims to prevent the inappropriate use of the denomination by third parties, by products that were not produced in Brazil,” he explained.

Diversification

The challenge must be overcome, Lima argued, by all of the production chain, including bars and restaurants. “Even people doing the service, offering the product, are often not acquainted with its richness and versatility, or assumes consumers won’t have cachaça, so they end up offering other drinks instead,” he added.

Ibrac’s director highlights the importance of existing establishments, gastronomic events and consumers’ brotherhoods aimed at raising the status of cachaça. “The drink has been consumed pure and in other states, also in the creation of new and traditional cocktails replacing other distilled spirits. We have been observing this change in consumption patterns in the last years,” he reported.

The creation of new products and the work of academia in innovating and enhancing production were also mentioned by Lima. “However, even though it’s produced from north to south, there’s still no countrywide network for cachaça technology, which could greatly help micro and small producers,” he pointed out.

A hoard of scents and flavors

Developed during colonial times, the beverage is also found in Brazilian music and cuisine. To spread the word about its culture and history, researcher Felipe Jannuzzi and his colleagues in 2010 put together the Mapa da Cachaça (“cachaça map”), with guides, recipes, and articles.

Jannuzzi is a journalism graduate who travels the country seeing alembics and doing research on scents and flavors of different cachaças. In an interview with Agência Brasil, he said his goal is to bring cachaça under the spotlight on the internet as a heritage asset of Brazil. His team is now working on the portal’s English version.

“I met amazing people. It’s a drink with a huge diversity of flavors depending on where it’s produced. That’s something I learned over time, so what started as a cultural project came to include sensory experiences in Brazil,” he said.

The range of flavors of cachaça is courtesy of the diversity of woods used in aging. He explained that the drink may be consumed white after distillation or go through wood. “The whole world does it with oak, a wood from the Northern Hemisphere. Cachaça may go through oak as well as over 30 Brazilian woods. This relates closely to how accessible these woods are to production sites,” he explained.

In 2012, the Mapa da Cachaça was recognized by the former Ministry of Culture as Brazil’s best cultural survey. The website also won a contract in 2014 to represent Brazilian gastronomy during the World Cup.

Market

The installed capacity of cachaça production stands at 1.2 billion of liters in Brazil, whereas actual production totals approximately 700 million to 800 million every year. Only one percent of production is exported. In 2018, cachaça brought in revenues adding up to $15.6 million (8.4 million liters) in exports. Today, the spirit is exported to more than 60 countries.

Cachaça and aguardente trademarks amount to more than 6.3 thousand, with some 600 thousand direct and indirect jobs created. Carlos Lima also mentioned that the production chain behind cachaça generates revenues and brings man closer to the field. Despite the presence of cachaça in the domestic market, the spirit is still far from reaching its potential in exports.

Last year, the institute published a manifesto demanding public policies to help the market grow. Among them is the fight against illegal practices and informal work, which goes beyond 85 percent, and a reassessment of the tax load on the drink.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Fernando Fraga / Augusto Queiroz

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