World Cup season has stirred up quite a frenzy, with avid supporters looking for ways to show their allegiance to the different national teams competing. A very appropriate way to demonstrate loyal fandom would be—of course—to booze on the preferred beverage of whichever nation you’re backing.
If you’re rooting for Brazil, you might want to listen up. Smithsonian Mag wrote up an essential piece introducing the world to host nation Brazil’s most beloved spirit, cachaça. The piece goes into detail about the national drink’s origins, the challenges its production has faced (and still faces), and lists a few fun facts.
We’ve distilled some of the most revealing info about this delightful sugarcane spirit:
1. Calling cachaça “Brazilian rum” isn’t entirely correct. Cachaça is distilled from fermented sugarcane juice, and contains between 38 and 54 percent ABV. While rum is also made from sugar, it’s made entirely from sugarcane by-products, like molasses. Cachaça, on the other hand, is derived directly from the sugarcane. Because of this, it has a less sweet, and more “grassy, sulfurous, earthy quality.”
2. The word “cachaça” was coined by African slaves who worked in sugarcane mills. They would gather the foam that collected at the mouth of the cauldrons, in which the sugarcane was boiled, and ferment it afterward. Cachaça is the name they gave the foam.
3. It was first consumed by slaves to dull their pain and energize them during grueling work days. The spirit most likely served as the lone, heavy source of comfort in the lives of the African captives who worked in the colonial mills. In 1663, sugar producer João Fernando Vieira told the supervisor of his mill that his slaves could only “begin a day’s work after they had drunk their daily ration of cachaça.” Later in 1780, the governor of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais deemed cachaça a “drink of basic foodstuffs” for the slaves.
4. It has long been a symbol of national pride among the country’s lower classes. The 400-year-old liquor has a long history of being part of Brazilian nationalistic pride. After it become one of the country’s most popular products, the Portuguese eventually felt threatened, and “banned consumption of the spirit on June 12, 1744,” which also happens to be International Cachaça Day, and the date that kicked off this year’s World Cup.
5. Distillers can sweeten the liquor by adding sugar only in amounts less than six grams per liter. Sweetening distilled cachaça is possible, but id producers add any more than six grams, the liquor will have to be labeled “sweetened cachaça.”
6. According to a 1959 James Beard article, turkeys, before slaughter, were force-fed large quantities of cachaça. They thought that “a drunk turkey was a relaxed turkey—and a relaxed turkey was a tender turkey.”
7. Sugarcane juice, the essence of cachaça, is a volatile substance. It has to be quickly turned into something “stable”—a syrup, spirit or sugar—before it spoils. Because Brazil is such a large country, it would have taken far too long to transport the sugarcane juice from sugar farms to market. So farmers chose to distill the spirit directly from the raw sugarcane, which would have been something they could sell without delay
8. 99 percent of the cachaça produced and consumed stays in Brazil. About 85 million cases of the spirit are consumed each year, and most of it by Brazilians. However, the US did import a thousand nine-liter cases in 2007. Fortunately, the United States and Brazilian governments entered into an agreement last year to make liquor trade easier between the two countries.
9. Despite this, it’s still considered a pretty isolated product. This is because Brazilian immigrants never brought cachaça over in bulk. “Brazil has been very poor at marketing it,” explains cocktail historian David Wondrich. “They don’t have a big cachaça marketing board.”
10. Lastly, actor John Travolta drinks and dances with the locals in a Brazilian commercial for cachaça distiller Ypióca, called “Vamos Brasilizar.” Watch the video below.
[via Smithsonian Mag]