(n.) Invented in the 16th century soon after Portuguese colonialists introduced sugarcane to Brazil, cachaça is a spirit distilled from fermented sugarcane juice. Few regulations about the production exist. The cane juice may be distilled in pot stills or column stills, and is generally sold un-aged. Brazil has fought to keep the product from being labeled “Brazilian Rum,” opting to use a proprietary name, much like bourbon’s establishment as a subset of whiskey.
Slowly gaining in recognition through the 2000s in the United States, this spirit remains wildly popular in its home country, and is inextricably tied to the Caipirinha, Brazil’s most famous cocktail. The Caipirinha’s heavy dose of sugar and lime is thought to have been a way to mask crudely produced cachaça, but recent gains in quality have meant that more bartenders are experimenting with alternative cocktails that highlight the spirit’s character. Producers to seek out include Leblon and Mae de Ouro.
Aged cachaça is also a new frontier. Like rum, no real regulations exist about the process, but producers are experimenting with versions aged in Brazilian wood or oak that are made for sipping neat.