The legal definition of cachaça says "cachaça is the product of the distillation of the fermented sugarcane juice, with alcohol strength between 38% and 51% by volume. Up to 6 gr per liter of sugar can be added".
Cachaça is often said to differ from rum in that it made from sugarcane juice while rum is made from molasses. However, a number of rum distillers use sugarcane juice instead of molasses to make their rums, this rum is called "Rhum Agricole".
Cachaça is the 3rd most important spirit of the world with 1.3 billion liters produced each year. Only 1.5% of this production is exported (mainly to Portugal, Paraguay and Germany). Outside Brazil, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks, caipirinha being the most famous. Template:Commonscat
Artisanal cachaças are produced by thousands of small mills spread all over the country, with Minas Gerais's state respected as the best source. Traditionally, the fermentation agent is a maize flour called "fubá" and the distillation unit is a copper pot still. The cachaça comes from the pot stills in 3 batches: "head", "core" and "tail". Most of the makers take only the "core", discarding the other two which have undesirable components.
Then the cachaça is either bottled or stored in wood barrels for ageing. The cachaça is aged in barrels made from a great variety of native or exotic trees such as chestnut, umburana, jequitibá, ipê, grápia, balsam wood, almond, jatobá, guanandi, brazilwood, cabreúva, tibiriçá, garapeira, cherry, and oak. Makers of artesanal cachaça usually bottle their own product, selling directly to the market (consumers, bars, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.). Domestically, artisanal cachaças are mostly drunk straight by consumers from the higher economic classes of society.
Industrial cachaças are made by medium-sized and big mills mostly located in the countryside of the São Paulo and Ceará states. The industrial cachaça makers use column stills to process the fermented sugarcane juice ("continuous distillation process"). The product is then sold as a raw material to cachaça bottlers such as "51", "Velho Barreiro", "Tatuzinho", "Pitu", "21", "Colonial". The bottlers adjust the cachaças to their standards by adding or removing components. Most of the time, industrial cachaças are not aged, being drunk straight by the lower economic classes. There are exceptions such as brands Ypioca and Sapupara, whose cachaça is 100% produced from their own estate and then aged in wood barrels.
Cachaça was invented by the first Portuguese settlers of Brazil, in the region around the town of São Vicente, sometime between 1532 and 1548. Workers at local sugar mills first discovered that the sugarcane juice (garapa), cooked and left standing, would "sour" (ferment) and turn into a mild alcoholic beverage. The product, disparagingly named cagaça, was consumed by slaves, as a cheap substitute for the Indians' cauim. Soon someone had the idea of distilling it, and thus cachaça was born.
Cachaça distilleries multiplied through colonial Brazil during the 16th and 17th centuries. Portugal eventually took notice and, in order to protect the market for Portuguese-made grappa (bagaceira), tried several times to outlaw the manufacture and consumption of the new spirit. In 1756, after a century of failure to suppress it, the Crown gave up and levied a tax on cachaça. This tax brought substantial revenue to the Treasury, and contributed to the reconstruction of Lisbon, which had been just devastated by an earthquake followed by a tsunami (1755 Lisbon earthquake).
Currently there are more than 4,000 different brands of cachaça available in Brazil. Early in its history it was consumed mainly by Africans, peasants, and members of the lower class. As is often the case, elitists considered it a low drink, unfit for exclusivist bars and tables. However, the finer points of the product gained wider and wider appreciation, and it is now a very popular drink, considered by some to be in the same class as whiskey and wine. The most prized brands are produced in São Paulo, Ceará, Pernambuco, and Minas Gerais. The Brazilian government and producer associations have recently acted to promote the export of cachaça.