Cachaça and rum - siblings or cousins?

World Best Bar

Apr 06, 2020

Cachaça and rum - siblings or cousins?
We often forget that cachaça has been around for longer than rum. But apart from age, what are the real differences between these spirits, given that they both derive from the sugar cane?

Are the differences significant enough to justify defining them as two separate products?

First comes the sugar cane juice

Cachaça and agricultural rum are both distilled from sugar cane juice

Let’s start with the source. That’s right – without sugar cane, there would be no rum, nor cachaça. Although rum can be made from molasses (what’s left of the cane after the sugar has been refined), cachaça can only be produced using fermented sugar cane juice. In other words, something akin to agricultural rum. And, in fact, agricultural rum and cachaça share the same distinct botanical notes as fresh sugar cane.

Potent flavors

Can we therefore say that cachaça is the Brazilian agricultural rum (or vice-versa)? God, no! First of all, their distillation methods are different. French agricultural rums are produced within a distillation column, and the eau-de-vie (distilled spirit) obtained contains an alcohol content of 70%. Brazilian law gives the producer the freedom to choose between a distillation column and a pot still, and limits the potency of the eau-de-vie to 54%. Yet, the lower the level of distillation, the more complex the aromas of the resulting eau-de-vie. In the same way, the pot still gives distillates more powerful flavors.

A short ageing process

Bottles of artisanal cachaça aged in wooden casks

Like agricultural spirits, cachaça is mainly consumed before aging. But when it does go through the aging process, cachaça proves itself to be truly unique to rum. Regardless of style – whether it’s agricultural liquor from Martinique, a more potent version from Jamaica, or a light Cuban variation – all rums are aged in oak barrels. In Brazil, however, producers are free to choose whatever type of wood they prefer – each tree bringing its own unique flavor. Incidentally, while it’s easy to find rums which have been aged for 7, 10, or even 20 years, most cachaças rarely surpass the three-year mark. The flavor of the base eau-de-vie is therefore less affected by the wood.

A bit of rustic charm

Cachaça is used to prepare numerous cocktails, including the classic Caipirinha

For these reasons, cachaça is often seen as a more rustic version of agricultural rum. Contrary to aged rum – both those made from molasses and from sugar cane juice (which are marvelous marvelous to drink straight) – outside of Brazil, cachaça is nearly exclusively used as a mixer in cocktails. Slowly but surely, the public’s attitude is changing, as it (re)discovers “rougher” spirits, such as tequila or mezcal, spirits which are now perceived as authentic.

The national spirit

Overall, the differences between rum and cachaça are not easy to detect, and some would say that it’s just a matter of details. In Brazil, you might hear that the unique history and culture of their national spirit is what makes all the difference. For those yet to be convinced, we can only recommend you try it for yourself! Whether taken straight or as part of a drink, it’s worth trying.

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