Brazil’s national spirit looking to shed its status as a global stranger

While Tequila is desperately trying to ditch its shots and horrendous hangover image, those on the board of the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça (IBRAC), would just be happy for consumers to be able to pronounce cachaça.

That’s ‘ka-shah-sah’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as these words are being typed, Microsoft Word’s Spellcheck function is showing its ignorance of some of the world’s most widely drunk spirits, even if their production reaches the hundreds of millions of litres.

Spellcheck doesn’t recognise cachaça, which is believed to be the world’s fourth most consumed spirit.

Neither does it recognise baijiu – the world’s most consumed spirit, thanks almost solely to its popularity with the billion Chinese who drink it as part of their regular repertoire.

Vodka and whisky on the other hand, it has no problem with: a result which reflects the consumption patterns of these spirits around the world and their success in their domestic and global markets.

The future of Brazil’s national spirit formed the centre of discussions at the country’s embassy in London last week, when frequent comparisons to the global success of tequila were made.

Carlos Lima, executive director of IBRAC, highlighted the disparity between the two country’s export figures: “Tequila is producing 300 million litres and exporting 200 million. Brazil is producing almost 700 million litres of cachaça but exporting 8.3 million.

“After 500 years of history, cachaça is still a stranger. We need to do better.”

Last week’s event shadows an on-going project between IBRAC and trade and export agency, Apex Brasil, which is in the process of being renewed.

Once settled, the renewed project will focus on promoting cachaça in the UK over the next two years in both the on and off-trade.

During this time period, the UK will be a “priority market” for the project, which will encompass plans to expand protection of cachaça worldwide.

So far, the spirit only has GI status in three countries: the US, Colombia, and Mexico.

“We’re now looking to come up with a free trade agreement to US and EU,” Lima explained – although Brexit may scupper plans to extend these to the UK.

Conversations are currently underway with the Scottish Whisky Association to look at the bilateral promotion and recognition of both spirits in their respective markets.

“That’s the first step to find mutual ground,” said Lima.


Cachaça Profile: 

Cachaça’s genesis can be traced back to when the Portuguese landed in the early 16th century, and production predates rum in the country by about 80 years. 

Cachaça is a sugar cane spirit, distilled with an ABV between 38% and 48%.

One of the most interesting features of Cachaca is that it is the only beverage in the world which is aged in over 25 different varieties of wood, including oak, ipé, amburana, and canela to name a few.


What is cachaça? 

Outside of its native Brazil, cachaça is mainly known because it forms the base of Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha.

With cocktail culture extending from London from Tokyo and beyond, IBRAC and its partners are clearly focusing on this area for expansion, echoing the success of tequila and other spirits.

But outside of their close geography, cachaça is very different to the agave-derived tequila.

Extracted from sugar cane juice, cachaça has more in common with rum, although rum and cachaça are produced through a slightly different process.

Any alignment with tequila and cachaça is based mainly on other factors rather than their spirit DNA.

One is a strong sense of identity.

Tequila is overwhelmingly associated with Mexico and can only be called tequila if it is produced and bottled in the state of Jalisco.

Similarly, cachaça has to be produced in Brazil.

Lima is keen to play up this provenance and to stress the complexity and premium potential of the product through “quality and history”.

“The UK is a very good market for food and drink, especially for spirits,” Lima said, pointing to London as a central hub for the gentrification of the global spirits industry.

“It’s also a very cosmopolitan place. People very open minded, which is very good for spirits.”

But after 500 years of being a global stranger, cachaça still has a way to go before consumers will be able to pronounce or even remember its name, let alone make it premium mark, which despite its success, still eludes the grasp of those spirits whose success it would like to emulate.



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