Cachaça: One trick pony?

Cachaça is a tough one. with so many other white spirits to choose from, why bother with this Brazilian rum variant, asks Christian Davis


CACHAÇA’S GREAT plus in the white spirits battle for share of throat is that it is the essential ingredient of one of the world’s classic cocktails, the Caipirinha. On that basis alone, the Brazilian rum is a must-stock for most cocktail bars.

Regular Drinks International contributor and bar consultant Philip Duff says: “I have long used cachaça as an example of the gilded cage that has a rock-solid signature drink. The Caipirinha is ‘owned’ by cachaça.”

Carsten Vlierboom, managing director and master blender at Dutch distiller E&A Scheer, was the International Spirits Challenge chairman of judges recently considering the global rum category.

He stipulates: “Cachaça is a very specific and recognisable product with clear local, Brazilian, regulations on production and denomination, cane juice as a base (see panels).

“There are a lot of producers in Brazil, from small artisanal distillers to (extremely) large industrial conglomerates, creating a wide range of products. They fall near to the rum category which is currently very much sought after. Opportunities lie with artisanal premium products mainly.”

Rodrigo Maia is director of Cia Muller, which owns the mighty Cachaça 51 brand. He says: “Cachaça is a drink that embodies the spirit of what Brazil has best to offer – joy, boldness, celebration.

“The main trend we see is premiumisation. This encompasses all the aspects possible, for it requires increasingly elaborated, precise and differentiated production and ageing techniques, with emphasis on the utilisation of different wood types for the ageing process, greater investment in packaging towards sophistication, and the development of more elaborated marketing actions.

“Until last year, the crisis had not been felt in the cachaça market, with an estimated growth of 7% in relation to that of other spirits, thanks to the offering of low value-added and low-priced products. Today, Brazil makes about R$1bn a year with the commercialisation of 1.3bn litres of cachaça. With all this potential, the production of cachaça is a way of investing in a business with great growth possibilities,” says Maia.

Pitú do Brasil is a premium cachaça and market leader in Germany. In answer to some Drinks International questions a spokesperson for Pitú Europe replies: “In Europe the cachaça market is decreasing. Its USP is the capability that cachaça offers, especially in mixability.

“Although the total cachaça market in Germany is decreasing, Caipirinha is still the signature drink and is a must-have on the menu in mainstream bars.”


Drinks International put out a Facebook request asking bartenders for their opinions of cachaça. Here is a selection of the responses.

Top UK bartender Richard Hunt, owner-operator of Mint Gun Club and self-confessed mild cachaca obsessive, says: “I’m all over this – but you knew that from the fact that a quarter of my menu is Cachaça.”

Luisa Halle, bar specialist from Caracas, Venezuela, says: “When it’s well made, it’s one of the best spirits to use in cocktails, which allows a lot of creativity.”

James Hawkins, bartender at Sexy Fish in Mayfair, London, and UK Brand Champion at Cachaça Yaguara, says: “It is a very diverse and interesting category.”

Jonathan Smolensky, ‘quartermaster’ of Thirst Boston bar in Boston, Massa-chusetts, replies: “Cachaca is one of the most important parts of my business.”

Peter Holland, who describes himself as a “rum herder (professional)... writer, presenter and consultant to the sugar cane spirits industry, says: “This really is an underestimated category –lots of good booze out there and so much more to discover as well.”

Tom Lasher-Walker, bar manager at Pig Bleecker in New York says: “Inter-esting topic. A long time ago me and a friend (Declan McGurk) talked about white spirits that have flavour after being distilled from their original matter (ie mezcal, rhum agricole, etc). Cachaça would also fall into this category but seems to get a one-dimensional point of view a lot of the time because of the drink it’s always associated with – Caipirinha.”

Daniele Liberati, general manager and beverage director at OSH restaurant and bar in London, points out: “The type of woods used in the cachaca industry are really interesting. Completely different profiles from the Europe-an and North American ones.”

Bacardi customer marketing ambassador and former Leblon brand ambassador at Cachaça Leblon, Marcello Gaya, quips: “Love cachaça as much as lasagne.”

Kasper Riewe-Høgh of the Duck and Cover bar in Copenhagen says: “I am co-owner of Fio Do Bigode cachaca that is currently available in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Germany. Small-scale production of pot still cachaca produced in Minas Gerais.

“It is important to distinguish between pot still cachaca (cachaca de alambique) and industrial column still cachacas. The differences are enormous, not only regarding the distillation, but also the cultivation, harvesting, fermentation and ageing. All this manifests itself in the end product.

“Craft cachaca is a fantastic bartender spirit that, for us, ticks all the boxes. It offers untamed and bold flavour expressions, it has a rich tradition and a proud heritage, but first and foremost it is an honest and transparent product with a clear taste of the raw materials.”

Riewe-Høgh goes on to tell DI: “Together with a friend and a small distribution company we started Fio di Bigode cachaca five years ago.

“My friend and I had previously done work in the Brazilian community in Copenhagen and been working with Ypioca for a couple of years. Knowing there were more, other, better products available in Brazil than in the general market at the time, we decided to see what we could do to bring some of it over here.

“We ended up visiting quite a few distilleries, primarily in Minas and Paraty before ending up with a corporation with the better known Germana guys. Our product is pot still, one-time distilled. We don’t use pesticides and we do all the harvesting by hand. The distillery is on a small slope, so gravity takes care of most production steps, and only one plug is used for the sugar cane press. We do natural fermentation with corn as a starter.”


Philip Duff says: “A cachaça Caipirinha is a marvellous drink. But what next? It is proving difficult to get bartenders to simply use cachaça as ‘just another interesting cocktail ingredient’. Try as they may, the Caipirinha remains top-of-mind whenever they start to try to create a new cocktail using cachaça.

Vlierboom adds: “The producers which have been active in the past decade have been mainly volume driven which has flushed the European market with the cheaper end product, commoditising it. As the produced volumes are so big in Brazil from the larger producers’ perspective they find the European market extremely small and do not always understand the dynamics of building a brand over time.”

Maia says: “Cachaça has a strong potential and is already appreciated by more than 51 countries which buy Cachaça 51. We have the purpose to keep on developing both Cachaça 51 and Reserva 51 in the locations where we are having great results, besides introducing new products from our portfolio and increasing our share in Brazilian exports.”

Pitú says: “Challenges in Europe: Keep the attention level high while other categories such as gin, whisky and rum are growing.

“In Germany and many other European Countries Pitú is promoting the mixability of fruity and light drinks which are called Batida: promotion with glass on packs, recipe book-lets, bar equipments etc.

Riewe-Høgh says:“The two biggest challenges for cachaca are that nobody knows about it, and nobody talks about it. The challenge for the category is how to communicate the narrative of good quality cachaca de alambique and the variety in flavours that it offers.

“But who should invest in and perform that communication? We believe it demands a coordinated effort between various stakeholders that as of now looks difficult to unify in common efforts,“ says Riewe-Høgh.


“Once upon a not-too-distant past, gin was only for G&Ts and Martinis, and look what’s changed there,” points out Duff.

“Spirits such as genever, singani, pisco, aquavit, even mezcal, all find themselves in the same boat. To begin to deliver real volume, they need to become ‘just another spirit’, with or without the safety net of a signature cocktail or two. Indeed, singani, aquavit and mezcal don’t even have any classic cocktails to fall back on.”

Maia says: “Product diversification is on the rise and becoming a trend. New products for different consumers and consumption occasions are becoming common, such as the case with the product we are launching, 51 Assinatura (51 Signature). We had developed three ranges of cachaça (jambu, smoked and amaro) together with three of Brazil’s most well-regarded mixologists, in addition to the liqueur flavour, created by product development specialists. All of them can be consumed in their natural form or in cocktails.”

Riewe-Høgh adds: “The potential for cachaca is massive. Not only is it an interesting product for bartenders to work with, but current trends are also shifting towards more dry and ‘dirty’ cane spirits/rum.

“It would be great to see cachaca as a category that is represented with more than just one bottle at the back bar, and something that bartenders would find use for outside the classic Caipirinha.”


According to Vlierboom, there are opportunities in premium and super-premium products for international markets, with continuous large volumes in local markets.”

Maia says: “The category has been making strong efforts to achieve a market growth, but few will be able to reach a level of quality to remain in the market after some long years. It is necessary to invest in technologies and be always attentive to what is new in the market to reach an outstanding position among so many competitors.”

“Cachaca has long been fighting to be acknowledged as a category of its own, says Riewe-Høgh. “To some extent I understand the need to stand out, but with the current development in rum demand, I fear that cachaca has chosen a strategy that could leave it as a spectator to a growing niche it could have been part of.

“Brazil offers such a wide range of cachacas with just as wide a range of flavours. We want people to look at cachaca as a category, rather than a single-drink spirit.

“We started Fio Do Bigode to bring cachaca de alambique to the Nordics and to spread the word about what cachaca could be if made properly.

“Since then, we have seen a small range of great products popping up and big companies investing in the category. This is fantastic and we hope that it is the first signs of a good future for cachaca,“ concludes Riewe-Høgh.

Duff asks: “Will they make it? I think they will, but they won’t be cracking Drinks international’s Brands Report anytime soon.”

Cahchaça may have high volumes but it needs to transition to high

margins. Success will be good-margin but relatively low-volume sales, with

a cocktail focus, in mostly urban



Sugar production switched from the Madeira islands to Brazil in the 16th century. In Madeira, ‘aguardente de cana’ is made by distilling sugar cane liquors. In Brazil, the process dates from 1532, when one of the Portuguese colonisers brought the first cuttings of sugar cane. The pot stills were brought to Brazil from Madeira.

It is typical for the rum to be between 38% and 48% abv. Up to 6g per litre of sugar may be added. Historically, cachaça competed with grappa. Germany is cachaça’s major export market.


Cachaça, like rum, has two varieties: unaged – branca (white), or prata (silver) – and aged amarela (yellow), or ouro (gold).

White cachaça is usually bottled immediately after distillation and tends to be cheaper (some producers age it for up to 12 months in wooden barrels to achieve a smoother blend).

Dark cachaça is aged in wood barrels and is meant to be drunk straight. It is usually aged for up to three years, though some ‘ultra-premium’ cachaças have been aged for up to 15 years.

There are important regions in Brazil where fine pot still cachaça is produced, such as Chã Grande in Pernambuco state, Salinas in Minas Gerais state, Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state, Monte Alegre do Sul in São Paulo state and Abaíra in Bahia state. Producers of cachaça can be found in most Brazilian regions now. There are estimated to be more than 40,000.


The major difference between cachaça, also known as Brazilian rum, and other rums is that most rum is made from molasses, a by-product from sugar refineries that boil the cane juice to extract sugar crystals.

Cachaça is made from fresh sugar cane juice. Rhum agricole, from the French Caribbean, is also made by this process.