Brazil in a Bottle

Hamish Smith on the 2014 World Cup and whether it will be the making of cachaça

IT IS THE SUMMER OF 1950 and Brazil is the host of football’s World Cup. For the tournament’s final game, 200,000 Brazilians are packed into the newly built Maracanã, the largest number ever to watch a football match. Following giddying 7-1 and 6-1 victories over Sweden and Spain, and now facing diminutive neighbour Uruguay, Brazil is the overwhelming favourite.

These are the world champions, the headline of Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Mundo said of the Brazilian team on the day of – not the day after – the game. Ahead of kick-off the city’s mayor proclaimed “in less than two hours you will be champions”. A Uruguay player wet himself during the national anthem – and four fans died in the excitement of the day. Even by South American standards, emotions were running high. 

Ten per cent of Rio’s population witnessed The Fateful Final, and countless more Brazilians listened in at home. For an hour Brazil had gone about its business – winning 1-0 and keeping the Maracanã in good voice. The two Uruguay goals that followed silenced a nation – the second was latterly compared to the gunshot that killed Kennedy, such was its piercing effect on the psyche and confidence of a budding, hopeful nation. According to José Lins do Rego in Journal dos Sports, the fans that spilled from the stadium were “speechless, as if they were returning from the funeral of a loved father”. To Brazilians, this was their ‘national catastrophe’.

That is why World Cup 2014 in Brazil matters – this summer will be about Brazil’s long-awaited and very personal redemption. But it is more than that. It is a window into the Brazilian identity, imbued as it is with football and other joyful things. One of those is cachaça. The sugar cane spirit is the domestic deity that never could spread the word beyond its own boarders. So for its producers, 2014 has more than the one golden prize to aspire to – this is their chance for international recognition.

“Any major beverage brand group that misses this opportunity will be completely foolish,” says Cosme Gomes, founder of export-led cachaça, Bossa. Steve Luttmann of Leblon agrees: “The World Cup will put Brazil on the world stage, significantly increasing the interest levels in Brazil as a country, culture, and unique destination. This, plus the follow-on Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, will undoubtedly have a significant impact in the consumption of Brand Brazil worldwide. Just like the 1968 Mexico City Olympics for Tequila and the 2000 Sydney Olympics for Australian Wines, the World Cup and the Olympics will have a profound effect on cachaça, as people become interested in Brazil and want to take a sip of the culture.”

By all accounts, the cachaça category is contracting by a couple of per cent each year, but it is a goliath that won’t be toppled easily, currently standing tall at around 78-100 million 9-litre cases, according to the Instituto Brasileiro da Cachaça.