Both cachaça and rum have the same base material: sugarcane. But the cachaça of Brazil and rum of the Caribbean are not the same spirit. Here at Mapa da Cachaça, we explain the differences.
The name cachaça is a denomination d’origine controlee (DOC), and cachaça can only be produced within Brazil. Brazilian law defines the spirit thus:
Cachaça is a denomination typical and exclusive of aguardente of cane produced in Brazil, with an alcoholic degree of between 38 to 48 percent by volume, measured at 20 degrees Celsius, obtained by the distillation of “mosto” or fermented juice of the sugarcane with special sensorial characteristics, to which sugar may be added only up to six grams per liter.
The DOC reflects the different origins, production methods, and flavors of these cousin spirits.
The main difference between rum and cachaça is that rum is made of molasses, which is cooked from sugarcane juice. Cachaça is always made with the fresh-pressed juice of sugarcane, called garapa. According to the chemist Dr. Patterson Patricio de Souza, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, this difference results in a highly distinctive chemical composition, which leads to differences in the distillate as well as in strong differences in taste. Patricio explains that during the cooking of the molasses the substances present in the juice, or garapa, including esters, aldehydes and the superior alcohols, are altered, affecting the final flavor of the drink.
However, throughout the Caribbean, including Trinidad, Panama and the Dominican Republic, there is a special kind of rum called Rhum Agricole that is made from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice rather than from molasses.
Because of the flavor, production and cultural differences between the two spirits, in 2012, the United States and Brazil agreed to recognize a long-held understanding within Brazil, that cachaça (ka-SHA-sa) is now labelled as such, rather than as the inaccurate labeling Brazilian rum.
As we have seen in our legislation, cachaca must be distilled between 38% and 48%. For the U.S. markets, cachaças enter in at greater than 40%. However, rum can go far beyond these limits, like the Navy Rums, that have at least 56 ABV.
Even though cachaca, as well as rum, can be consumed in its white version (known in Brazil by its diminutive,branquinha), like all noble spirits the best distillates (produced by high-quality artisanal producers) are carefully are given to wood to deepen and enrich the flavor. A high quality cachaça is deepened and its fine characteristics evoked through resting or aging in wood. (For the English-speaking aficionado of cachaça, Brazilian Portuguese recognizes two types of wood-aging: armazenadas – or rested, and envelhicadas – or aged.)
Cachaça is one of very few beverages in the world that is not aged only in oak. While some producers enjoy aging in oak, bringing forth either the strong vanillins of American white oak or the nutty flavors of European oak, the rich depth of cachaça’s (and Brazil’s) mysteries are to be found in the indigenous woods of this vast and ecologically diverse country.
Indigenous woods like amburana, jequitibá, ipê, tapinhoã, balsam and up to twenty-four others are used for resting or aging the highest quality cachaça distillates. The gastronomic potential (as in many Brazilian ingredients) is immense: imagine the possibililites of harmonizing and pairing these wood aged cachaças with the vast food possibilities of Brazilian ingredients and flavors!
Cachaça is older than rum. According to the writer Wayne Curtis, author of the book “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails”, rum arrived in the beginning of the 17th century in British colonies in the Caribbean, probably beginning in Barbados. Rum – like many spirits – originated as a byproduct of the production of sugar, before considered as rough byproducts and often poured into the ocean.
In Brazil, there are some historical mentions of the production of rums that appeared with the colonization of Brazil by the Dutch in the first decades of the 17th century. After the expulsion of the Dutch from Recife (in the northern part of modern-day Brazil), they took both cane and the equipment for distillation to the Caribbean, giving Brazil a claim for the founder of both cachaça and rum. Interestingly, this may have been the initial reason why rum was initially more famous in Europe than cachaça. The Dutch were the principal merchants that, through the Company of the West Indies, brought rum to Europe and the North Americas.
Historians, among them Câmera Cascudo, have discovered that the first cachaça was distilled in 1532 in São Vincente, near the port of the modern-day Sao Paulo. São Vincent was where the original sugarcane farms were located in Brazil – nearly a hundred years before the beginning of rum production. There are several stories regarding the origin of cachaça in São Vincente, one of which tells us that the distillery was put in place when a slave, who worked on the farm, experimented with “cagaça” – a type of foam which formed during the boiling of sugarcane juice in the process of creating sugar. In spite of it all, we must give credit to the Portuguese, who first began working with the fermentation and distillation of garapa utilizing the techniques that they learned from the Arabs in other colonies such as in the Islands of Madeira off the coast of Africa.
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