Many websites out there describe and define cachaça as being a sort of Brazilian rum, but is that really true? There seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to understanding the differences between rum and cachaça, so I guess that an article on this subject would be a welcomed addition to the site.
It is true that cachaça and rum are both products of sugar cane, but the Brazilian cachaça and the Caribbean rum are certainly not the same thing. Here are the key differences:
Cachaça is 100% Brazilian
The term cachaça is protected by law and the production of cachaça is restricted to Brazil. According to Brazilian legislation, Decree 6871/2009, art. 53, defines cachaça as:
The typical and unique designation for the sugarcane liquor produced in Brazil, with an alcohol content of 38% to 48% in volumepercent, at twenty degrees Celsius (°C), obtained by the distillation of fermented sugar cane juice.
Rum: product of molasses
The main difference in production between the two distillates, is that rum is made with boiled sugar cane juice (molasses). Cachaça, however, has historically always been made with fresh sugarcane juice, called garapa. This difference in the process results in a unique chemical composition, which differentiates the spirits and brings different sensory properties. Boiling the sugar cane juice, alters the substances present in the product, such as aldehydes and higher alcohols. This ends up modifying the final taste of the drink.
Rum has a higher alcohol content
As already mentioned, cachaça can have an alcohol content between 38% to 48%. Rum can pass these limits. Rum is defined as:
Rum, ron or rhum is a drink with an alcohol content of 35% to 54% in volume, at twenty degrees Celsius, obtained from distilled molasses, or a mixture of distilled sugar cane juice, aged wholly or partly in oak or an equivalent wood container, which preserves its peculiar sensory characteristics.
Rum is traditionally aged in oak barrels
Both rum and cachaça can be consumed in their “silver” versions, in other words, not aged in a wooden barrel. However, both drinks also come in aged versions often referred to as “gold” or “premium”.
Cachaça is one of the few alcoholic drinks that is not limited to being aged in oak. Domestic Brazilian woods such as umburana, jequitibá, ipe, Tapinhoã, balm and several others are also used for aging or for the purpose of storage. Each wood gives the drink a distinctive color, aroma and flavor. The gastronomic potential of this feature is huge and has been explored significantly in the last years: imagine the possibilities for harmonization of different flavors of cachaça and Brazilian dishes!
Difference is the origins
According to researcher Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, rum emerged in the early 17th century in the British colonies in the Caribbean, probably in Barbados. Rum had originated from by-products of the sugar industry, once considered unwanted waste and often discarded at sea.
There are also indications of manufacturing of rum by the Dutch who colonized Brazil in the first decades of the 17th century. But with their expulsion from Recife by the Portuguese, the distillation equipments were taken to the Caribbean. This may well be the reason why rum has become more famous worldwide than the Brazilian cachaça, considering that the Dutch were great traders and had the structure of the West India Company to lead the Caribbean production to Europe.
Some Historians believe that the first cachaça was distilled around 1532 in São Vicente, where the first sugar mills emerged in Brazil. There are a few popular legends about the origin of cachaça, however, it is strongly believed that the Portuguese already practiced the fermentation and distillation of sugar cane juice using techniques they learned from the Arabs in other colonies as in Madeira.