Earlier this week – September 13 to be exact – was one of those days that make me love Brazil: Dia Nacional da Cachaça.
Just imagine an entire day devoted to the distilled sugar cane alcohol without which the world would never have known the marvelously refreshing innovation that is the caipirinha.
Although caipis have their undisputed place in the Brazilian scheme of things, as I pointed out in a post about Brazil’s (and the world’s) largest cachaçaria, cachaça in its purest, most unadorned incarnation is the form in which most Brazilians choose to tipple.However, although the historic date has been commemorated in bars across the land for years, it was only last October that the Dia Nacional da Cachaça was officially recognized by the federal government as a national day.
(Proof of this love is the multitude of affectionate and highly expressive nicknames bestowed upon the spirit, raining from pinga (as in drop), cana (cane), aguardente (burning water), and mardita (from maldita, meaning “the damned one” to the more lyrical água-que-passarinho-não-bebe (“water that birds don’t drink”) and aquela-que-matou-a-guarda (“that which killed the cop”).
The choice of September 13 as a commemorative date is significant as it was on this day, in 1661, that colonial planters (and cocktail aficionados) in Rio de Janeiro rose up against the Portuguese in protest against the Crown’s ban on the production and consumption of cachaça in Brazil. Known as the “Revolta da Cachaça,” the insurrection lasted five months and ended with the king capitulating and making legal the production of cachaça in his most profitable colony.
Aside from winning the right to get sloshed on their own booze in public, Brazilians viewed their victory as a symbol of independence. However, although the historic date has been commemorated in bars across the land for years, it was only last October that the Dia Nacional da Cachaça was officially recognized by the federal government as a national day.
No need to worry if you missed the festivities this year; at bars and cachaçarias across the country – a sampling of which are listed below – every day is cachaça day:
Rio de Janeiro:
Mangue Seco Cachaçaria
(Rua do Lavradio, Lapa, tel. 21/3852- 1947)
Located in atmospheric early 19th century building in a historic street in a picturesque part of downtown, Mangue Seco boasts over 100 types of cachaça, and is the only place in Rio that carries every single pinga produced and commercialized in the state of Rio de Janeiro. This being Lapa, on Friday and Saturday nights, you can down your shots to the strains of live samba.
Academia da Cachaça
(Rua Conde de Bernadotte 26, Loja E-G, tel. 21/2239-1542)
The members of this distinguished “Academy” hold court in the swank Zona Sul hood of Leblon (although the bar itself is comfortably laid-back). While you can savor (as well as purchase) hundreds of cachaças from all over Brazil in their pure form, the caipirinha here is renowned as being one of the best in the city, as is the hearty feijoada – a classic accompaniment.
Papo, Pinga, e Petisco
(Praça Franklin Roosevelt 118, Consolação, tel. 11/3257-4106)
Located right in the center of town, “PPP” as it is affectionately known, is a funky little bohemian bar with a used bookstore/record store in the back supplying the tunes. Aside from papo (chatting) and petiscos (snacks), this is a friendly place to kick back with pingas served either straight up or infused with ingredients such as passion fruit, star anise, and coffee (which, served on ice, is a bracing pick-me-up).
(Rua Cristina 1203, Santo Antônio, 31/3296-8343)
With more bars per resident than any other Brazilian city, and a strategic location in the biggest cachaça-producing state of Brazil, the capital of Minas Gerais is a veritable mecca for cachaça aficionados. Amidst the city’s immense array of bars and botecos, you really can’t go wrong with 707 artisanal brands on offer at Via Cristina. The menu not only lists origins, but also the type of precious woods used to make the barrels in which the alcohol was aged. An ingenious tábua de degustação – wooden board on which a half-dozen, half doses are artfully arranged – allows you to taste test the wares.
(Terreiro de Jesus, Pelourinho, 71/3322-6759)
Surrounded by magnificent baroque churches, this atmospheric little hole in the wall specializes in infusões – traditional, and often medicinal, infusions of all types of herbs, plants, fruits, and spices left to soak in bottles and barrels of cachaça. The most famous – and the bar’s namesake – cravinho, is an intoxicating blend of pinga with honey, lime, and cloves (cravo) that tastes like Bahia itself.