Cachaça – a brief history

Cachaca, Brazil’s most popular drink, is woven into the history of the nation, having bolstered the colonial economy and provoked the first rebellion against the Portuguese.    And although cachaca was first made before rum, it was only early this century when it gained international (excluding the USA) legal status and declared officially as Brazilian.


Most of the history of cachaca is shrouded in mystery with alleged stories and unverified facts.  Here are some of these stories and facts that we find most intriguing and which we will be exploring further over the next weeks and months!

A drink is born

After Brazil was ‘discovered’ by Cabral around 1500, many portuguese returned with sugar cane shoots in the early 16th century, needing to expand sugar production in Madeira. Regions like São Vicente, Pernambuco, and Recôncavo Baiano were soon transformed into vast plantations.  As colonies were established along the coast, cachaca began to be produced; most likely using stills that were brought from Madeira where a kind of aguadente (fire water) was already being made. Much more poetically, cachaca  was discovered by serendipity when fresh sugarcane juice reserved for drinking or for livestock fermented naturally and evaporated to condense into droplets; these then fell  on  the slaves who discovered that it was not only delicious but also intoxicating.. Pinga (meaning drip), also known as cachaca (!), was born.

Slaves working on the sugar cane farms

Slaves working on the sugar cane farms

Names and nicknames

Aside from the origins of pinga,we are unsure exactly how cachaça got its name. ‘Cachaça’ may have been derived from the word ‘cachaço’, which in earlier times referred to pickling or preserving. Or from cagaça, which is the foam that forms above fermenting juice. Over the years cachaça has been called many things, most of which are slightly pejorative and a cachaceiro essentially means drunkard or wino.  Our favourite: ‘abre-coração’, the heart-opener – ahh.

Funny Cheeky names

Funny Cheeky names

Rebel tonic

Cachaca became an instant hit with sailors, slaves, natives and the lower classes, and for centuries it was only produced as such, since the Brazilian elite saw it as a ‘poor man’s drink’. It was cheap and easy to produce, whereas wine and other spirits had to be imported from Europe.

By 1660, cachaça had become so popular that its consumption surpassed that of Portuguese bagaceira, a kind of distilled wine. Upset by the fact that the colonies preferred cachaça, Portugal responded by imposing a heavy tax on Brazilian distilleries, who promptly revolted in an event now known as ‘The Cachaça Rebellion’.

Cachaça’s global popularity

No longer just the ‘poor man’s drink’, nowadays cachaça has become an integral part of Brazilian culture, as synonymous with the country as bossa nova, carnival, or football. It is produced and enjoyed all over Brazil and is enjoying an exciting renaissance; trendy cachaçarias have sprung up in Brazil’s major cities and, more recently, in many cities of around the world. Long may it continue!

Please get in touch to share any info on any aspects of cachaca or if you just want to learn more about Abelha Cachaça! Get in touch!

Our very own Abelha!

Our very own Abelha!