There are several existing versions about the origin of Cachaça. In a way, you can tell its story begins when the Portuguese brought the sugarcane and distillation techniques from Madeira Island. One version says that the distillate would have appeared in the state of Pernambuco when a slave, who worked at the mill, left the “cagaça” stored – a greenish and dark broth formed during boiling of the sugarcane juice. The liquid fermented naturally and, due to the temperature changes, it would evaporate and condense, forming small drops of Cachaça in the mill roof. By the way, the origin of the synonym “pinga” (drop) would have emerged from this popular version of the distillate origin.
Another version, presented by historian Luís da Câmara Cascudo, in his book Prelude of Cachaça, points out that the first Cachaça was distilled around 1532 in the city of São Vicente, where the first sugar mills appeared in Brazil. In this version by Cascudo, it was the Portuguese who produced the first liters of the drink, after learning the distillation techniques with the Arabs.
The fact is that Cachaça accompanied the history of Brazil since its beginning, going through the sugar cycle, the growth of territorial boundaries and reaching urbanization of the country. Originally, Cachaça was only intended for slaves, but soon became popular, ending up as an important component of the emerging national economy and, consequently, proliferating its production around the coast of Brazil.
Taken by merchants, the Brazilian drink became successful also in Europe and Africa, where it was used as currency to buy slaves who went to work on colonial plantations. Because of the economic relevance of Cachaça in Brazilian lands, its sale and exchange posed a threat to the metropolis, as it helped to enrich the Crown’s enemies, like the Dutch pirates who settled in the Northeast. At that time, Portugal produced a grape distilled called “bagaceira”, and the increased Cachaça production had the settlers more and more uninterested about consuming the Portuguese beverage. To inhibit the production of Cachaça, Portugal established an excessive tax charged to the brandy makers, which, dissatisfied with this taxation, rebelled against Portugal, marking the episode known as the Cachaça Revolt, back in 1660.
After the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when there was significant multiplication of stills on the plantations of São Paulo and Pernambuco, Cachaça spread throughout Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, due to the discovery of gold and precious stones. During the eighteenth century, the sugar-based economy declines and becomes replaced by gold mining in Minas Gerais. Early in the migration to Minas, white Cachaças (pure) were placed in wooden barrels to be transported to Minas Gerais. During the trip, Cachaça, because of the contact with the wood, would end up becoming yellow and producing its very own scents and flavors. Some say that there arose the habit of aging and storing Cachaças in wooden barrels. Today, we see that in coastal cities, like Paraty, there is a predominance of production of white Cachaças, while in Minas Gerais producers always choose to store their Cachaças in barrels, so that they acquire sensory characteristics, such as color and flavor, from the wood. In the extraction regions were also small stills that supplied the budding urban population that was trying to enrich through mining, despite the taxes levied by the Portuguese metropolis.