Here at Casa Cocktail Wonk, we prefer to go off the beaten path, demystifying complex topics and bringing daylight to the shadowy areas of spirits knowledge. A particular favorite is disabusing people of the “rum has no rules” misperception. Just like Bourbon, Scotch whisky, and Cognac have well-defined regulations protecting them from imposters masquerading as the real deal, the cane spirits world has similar protections.
Perhaps the best known cane spirit defined by a regulation is Martinique’s AOC rhum. These regulations are quite thorough, designating cane varietals, crop seasons, fermentation, distillation apparatus, and aging. A rhum that doesn’t meet all the AOC regulations cannot be labeled and sold with the unique wording that designates Martinique AOC compliance. (If you’re curious, I’ve translated it to English and thoroughly summarized the content.)
Another region with strict regulations for its cane spirits is Cuba. Although not as well known, the Cuban Denominación de Origen Protegida (“Protected Designation of Origin”) also lays out some precise rules about molasses and yeast, plus extreme detail regarding the aging protocol. As with the Martinique AOC, Cuba’s regulations prevent the labeling and sale of rums that don’t meet the Cuban requirements. I’ve also published an English language translation with extensive annotation and background.
This time around, we’re focusing our translations lens on cachaça, the native cane spirit of Brazil. While cachaça is unfortunately still considered a niche product in North America and Europe, worldwide it’s the most consumed cane spirit. Surprised? Estimates of cachaça’s annual production have it at around 1.5 billion liters per year. In contrast, global rum giant Bacardi sells somewhere around 200 million liters, or one-seventh of the amount of cachaça produced. So why don’t we hear as much about cachaça? The main reason: The vast majority is consumed domestically within Brazil.
Another fun fact about cachaça: Before the Dutch brought their pot stills to Barbados, thus creating Caribbean rum, they were distilling cane spirits in Brazil. Thus, we can say that cachaça is a slightly older sibling to Caribbean rum.
On the world stage, cachaça makers have started promoting the category with a new fervor, in conjunction with the increased awareness of rum as a premium spirit. A key advantage cachaça offers when educating consumers is its unique name. Were it to just be labelled “Brazilian rum,” consumers might just take it as just another bottle. Cachaça got a big boost in the U.S. in 2013 when the U.S. TTB (the agency that controls alcohol) changed its categorizations to include cachaça “as a type of rum and as a distinctive product of Brazil.”
But wait – is it a type of rum, or is it cachaça? Both! The TTB memorandum clarifies this point: “…a qualifying product may simply be labeled as ‘cachaça’ without the term ‘rum’ on the label (just as a product labeled with the type designation ‘Cognac’ is not required to also bear the class designation ‘brandy’).”
In short, in the eyes of the TTB, cachaça is to rum as Cognac is to brandy or champagne is to sparkling wine –an elevated subcategory.
With the stage set, let’s get to the critical question: What exactly defines cachaça? The answer lies within Brazil’s regulations, which first appeared in 2005 and subsequently slightly amended in 2007, and then again in 2008.
The official document is written in Portuguese, the national language of Brazil. I’ve processed it with Google translate and fixed up the phrasing to be more readable while retaining as much original detail as possible. Being a long, legal document, it’s filled with lots of verbiage, so I’ve also summarized key points, which I’ll present first. After that you’ll find the unabridged, translated version.
Cachaça Regulations Summary
The regulations begin with fundamental terminology definitions, including two related spirits: Aguardente de Cana and Cachaça. Both derive from sugar cane juice, and both must be a minimum of 38 percent ABV. However, while Aguardente de Cana has an upper ABV limit of 54 percent, cachaça’s upper limit is 48 percent ABV. Equally important, cachaça must be made in Brazil, whereas Aguardente de Cana has no such restrictions. In very simple terms, all cachaça is a type of Aguardente de Cana, but not vice versa.
Sugar (sucrose) can be added to both spirits, up to a level of six grams per liter.
A third type of spirit is also defined: Destilado Alcoólico Simples de Cana -de-Açúcar (“Simple Alcoholic Sugar Cane Distillate”). In simple terms, it’s essentially higher proof Aguardente de Cana, with an ABV between 54 and 70 percent.
With the basic spirit definitions clarified, the regulations then go through variations on the base theme:
- Sweetened Aguardente de Cana – between 6 g/l and 30 g/l sugar
- Sweetened Cachaça – between 6 g/l and 30 g/l sugar
All of the following must be aged in a wooden container of 700 liters or less, for more than one year, and contain at least 50 percent of one of the defined spirits.
- Aged Simple Alcoholic Sugar Cane Distillate
- Aged Aguardente de Cana
- Aged Cachaça
The final variations are premium takes, which have the same aging requirements of the “Aged” products, but must be 100 percent of the spirit, rather than a 50 percent minimum.
- Premium Aguardente de Cana
- Premium Cachaça
Finally, there are Extra Premium products, essentially the same as the Premium products, with three years minimum aging, rather than one year:
- Extra Premium Aguardente de Cana
- Extra Premium Cachaça
With the many product categories defined, the regulations next define maximum allowed levels of various chemical compounds (“congeners”) which are the source of flavor:
- Volatile acidity (acetic acid)
- Aldehydes (acetaldehyde)
- Total esters (ethyl acetate)
- Higher alcohols (the sum of n-propyl alcohol, isobutyl alcohol, and isoamyl alcohols)
- Furfural + hydroxymethylfurfural.
The most well-known of the above (for rum geeks) is esters, which have a maximum level of 200 g/hL AA. This value is surprisingly low, given that many Jamaican rum marques exceed that level. It’s worth noting that both the Martinique and Cuban regulations also define a set of similar measurements.
A very important twist to the above upper limits is that there’s an additional rule: The sum of all of the congeners must be at least 200 g/hL AA , yet may not exceed 650 g/hL AA. This is a plenty flavorful range, without getting into extreme funkiness.
No dyes, extracts, or wood chips may be use for coloring, except for caramel.
The addition of any ingredient that changes the natural sensorial characteristics of the final product is prohibited.
If you reuse a cask, it can only previously have held other beverages. The use of cask that held something other than a beverage is prohibited.
There are upper limits on various “contaminants,” which are tied to health issues:
- Methyl alcohol
- Ethyl carbamate
- Acrolein (2-propenal)
- Sec-butyl alcohol (2-butanol)
- N-Butyl alcohol (1-butanol).
- Copper (Cu)
- Lead (Pb)
- Arsenic (As)
The terms “silver” or “classic” or “traditional” may be used for Aguardente de Cana and Cachaça if stored in wood that doesn’t add color.
The term “gold” may be used for Aguardente de Cana and Cachaça if stored in wood which adds a substantial color change.
What’s not mentioned?
While the Brazilian regulations have no shortage of detail, what’s particularly interesting is what they don’t specify:
Base materials: Unlike the Martinique AOC, there are no restrictions on the cane varietals used or where it’s grown. Also, while the Aguardente de Cana is “from the simple alcoholic distillate of sugarcane, sugar cane juice or by the distillation of the fermented must from sugarcane juice”, Cachaça is more restricted, being “by the distillation of the fermented must of the sugarcane juice”.
Confused? To rephrase it, Cachaça must be distilled from fresh, fermented cane juice, and is distilled in a single pass. In contrast, Aguardente de Cana can also be distilled from previously, partially distilled cane spirit. i.e. double distillation.
Fermentation: Unlike Martinique and Cuba, there are no specific yeast strains allowed or disallowed. There is also no maximum fermentation length – in Martinique it’s five days, for example.
Distillation: There are no restriction of the type of still used, e.g. pot or column. Nor are their regulations on the still size or the number of plates (for column stills).
In Brazil you’ll find distillation with both pot and column stills. Smaller “artisanal” producers like Novo Fogo, Avuá, and Yaguara pride themselves on their use of pot stills. The giant “industrial” producers are most often column distilled.
Also worth noting is that the regulations (at least as I understand them) don’t specify a maximum distillation ABV. I assume the 38 to 48% percent range specifies the final bottled proof. The fact that potable water is an allowed “additive” seems to suggest this.
Aging: There are no restrictions on the type of wood used for casks. In fact, it’s the huge variety of Brazilian hardwoods used in barreling that are a key difference between cachaça and mainstream rum. While you can easily find cachaça aged in traditional American or European oak casks, the more interesting woods like Amburana , Jequitibá, Bálsamo, Araruva, Bertholletia, and many others provide unique flavors you won’t find anywhere else. For instance, Amburana gives a healthy cinnamon-spice note, while Bálsamo is described as “very intense herbaceous aromas, and slightly astringent.”
Finally, for the true wonks, the complete, unabridged, translated regulations:
The Unabridged, Translated Regulations
TECHNICAL REGULATIONS FOR FIXING THE IDENTITY AND
QUALITY FOR AGUARDENTE DE CANA AND PARA CACHAÇA
Establish the identity and quality characteristics to which apply to Aguardente de Cana and Cachaça.
1.2. Scope of application
This Technical Regulation applies to Aguardente de Cana and Cachaça which are marketed throughout the country and also destined for export
2.1.1. Aguardente de Cana is a drink with alcoholic strength of 38% ABV to 54% ABV at 20ºC, obtained from the simple alcoholic distillate of sugarcane, sugar cane juice or by the distillation of the fermented must from sugarcane juice. Added sugars up to 6 grams/liter of sucrose are allowed.
2.1.2. Cachaça is the native and exclusive denomination of cane spirit produced in Brazil, with an alcoholic strength of 38% ABV to 48% ABV at 20ºC, obtained by the distillation of the fermented must of the sugarcane juice, with peculiar sensorial characteristics. Added sugars up to 6 grams/liter of sucrose are allowed.
2.1.3. Destilado Alcoólico Simples de Cana-de-Açúcar (Simple Alcoholic Sugar Cane Distillate), intended for the production of Cane spirit, is the product obtained by the simple distillation process or by distillation-partial selective rectification of the fermented must of the sugarcane juice, with an alcoholic strength exceeding 54% ABV and less than 70% ABV at 20 ° C.
2.2.1. Aguardente de Cana:
Is the beverage defined in item 2.1.1.
Is the beverage defined in item 2.1.2.
2.2.3 Aguardente de Cana Adoçada (sweetened):
Is the beverage defined in item 2.1.1 and which contains sugars in quantity more than 6 grams/liter and less than 30 grams per liter of sucrose.
2.2.4. Cachaça Adoçada (sweetened):
Is the beverage defined in item 2.1.2 and which contains sugars in quantity more than 6 grams/liter and less than 30 grams per liter, expressed as sucrose.
2.2.5. Destilado Alcoólico Simples de Cana-de-Açúcar Envelhecido (Simple Alcoholic Cannabis Distilled Aged):
Is the product defined in item 2.1.3 stored in a wooden container with a maximum capacity of 700 (seven hundred) liters, for a period not exceeding less than one (1) year.
2.2.6. Aguardente de Cana Envelhecida (Aged Aguardente de Cana):
Is the drink defined in item 2.1.1 and which contains at least 50% of the Aguardente de Cana or the Destilado Alcoólico Simples de Cana-de-Açúcar, aged in a suitable wooden container, with a maximum capacity of 700 liters, for a period not less than one year.
2.2.7. Cachaça Envelhecida (Aged Cachaça):
Is the drink defined in item 2.1.2 and which contains at least 50% of Cachaça or Aguardente de Cana aged in wooden containers with a maximum capacity of 700 liters, for a period not less than one year.
2.2.8. Aguardente de Cana Premium:
Is the beverage defined in item 2.1.1 which contains 100% Aguardente de Cana or Destilado Alcoólico Simples de Cana-de-Açúcar envelhecidos in an appropriate wooden container, with a maximum capacity of 700 liters for a period of not less than one year.
2.2.9. Cachaça Premium:
Is the beverage defined in item 2.1.2 which contains 100% of Cachaça or Aguardente de Cana aged in a suitable wooden container, with a maximum capacity of 700 liters, for a period of not less than one year.
2.2.10. Aguardente de Cana Extra Premium:
Is the beverage defined in item 2.2.8 aged for a period of not less than three years.
2.2.11. Aguardente de Cana Extra Premium:
Is the beverage defined in item 2.2.9 aged for a period of not less than three years.
2.3. From Control
2.3.1. Additions (“correction”), in view of the standard aged alcoholic beverages listed in items 2.2.8, 2.2.9, 2.2.10 and 2.2.11, as set out in this Technical Regulation, may only be performed by addition of Simple Alcoholic Sugar Cane Distillate or Aguardente de Cana or Aged Cachaça, aged for the same period or potable water.
- CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND QUALITY REQUIREMENTS
3.1. Congener measurements
3.1.1. The Congener measurements (non-alcoholic volatile, or non-alcoholic volatile substances or non-alcoholic secondary components, or non-alcoholic volatile impurities) is the sum of:
- Volatile acidity (acetic acid)
- Aldehydes (acetaldehyde)
- Total esters (ethyl acetate)
- Higher alcohols (the sum of n-propyl alcohol, isobutyl alcohol and isoamyl alcohols)
- Furfural + hydroxymethylfurfural.
3.1.2. The Congener measurements for the products provided in sub-item 2.2 of this Technical Regulation shall not be less than 200 milligrams per 100ml (aka g/hL AA) and may not exceed 650 milligrams per 100 ml (aka g/hL AA) of anhydrous alcohol.
3.1.3. The components of the Congener measurements for the products described in sub-item 2.2 of this Technical Regulation should observe the following limits:
Note (all values are in mg/100 ml anhydrous alcohol, or equivalently, g/hL AA)
|Acidity volatile (acetic acid)||150||–|
|Total esters (ethyl acetate)||200||–|
|Total aldehydes (acetaldehyde)||30||–|
|Sum of Furfural and Hydroxymethylfurfural||5||–|
|Sum of isobutyl alcohols (2-methyl propanol), isoamylic (2-methyl-1-360- butanol + 3-methyl-1-butanol) and n-propyl (1-propanol
3.1.4. The presence of total phenolic compounds in Aguardentes de Cana and aged cachaças should be:
3.2. Basic Ingredients
3.2.1. For Aguardente de Cana:
Fermented grape must obtained from sugarcane juice;
Alcoholic Simple Distillate of Sugarcane.
3.2.2. For the cachaça:
Fermented grape must obtained from sugarcane juice.
3.2.3. For Simple Alcoholic Sugar Cane Distillate:
Fermented grape must obtained from sugarcane juice.
3.2.4. Sugar in Sweetened Aguardente de Cana and Sweetened Cachaça.
3.3. Optional Ingredients:
Must comply with the norms and standards approved in regulations for drinking water, and used exclusively for standardizing the alcoholic strength of the final product (aka “proofing”).
3.3.2. Sugar / sucrose, which may be replaced partially or completely by inverted sugar, glucose or reduced or oxidized derivatives thereof, up to a maximum of 6 grams/liter for Aguardente de Cana and Cachaça and less than 30 grams of sucrose in sweetened Aguardente de Cana and sweetened Cachaça.
- ADDITIVES, MANUFACTURING COMPONENTS, OTHER SUBSTANCES AND CONTAINERS.
4.1.1. In accordance with regulations.
4.1.2. Caramel only for the correction and / or standardization of the color of Aged Aguardente de Cana and Cachaça, provided for in the following items: 2.2.6, 2.2.7, 2.2.8, 2.2.9, 2.2.10 and 2.2.11.
4.2. Manufacturing Associates.
4.2.1. In accordance with regulations
4.3. Other substances
4.3.1. It is forbidden to use dyes of any kind, extract, splinters or other materials for correction or modification of the original coloration of the product stored or aged or subjected to these processes, except as provided in sub-item 4.1.2, of this Technical Regulation
4.3.2. The addition of any substance or ingredient that changes the natural sensorial characteristics of the final product is prohibited, except in the cases provided for in this Technical Regulation.
4.4.1. A container which has been previously intended for the storage or aging of other beverages may be used, and using of containers used for other purposes is prohibited.
4.4.2. While not being used for aging spirits, potable water may be stored in the barrel to preserve it.
5.1. Organic Pollutants:
5.1.1. Methyl alcohol in an amount not exceeding 20.0 mg / 100 ml of anhydrous alcohol.
5.1.2. Ethyl carbamate in an amount not exceeding 150μg / l (one hundred fifty micrograms per liter).
5.1.3. Acrolein (2-propenal) in an amount not exceeding 5mg / 100ml of anhydrous alcohol.
5.1.4. Sec-butyl alcohol (2-butanol) in an amount not exceeding 10mg / 100ml of anhydrous alcohol.
5.1.5. N-Butyl alcohol (1-butanol) in an amount not exceeding 3mg / 100ml of anhydrous alcohol.
5.2. Inorganic Contaminants:
5.2.1. Copper (Cu) in an amount not exceeding 5mg / liter
5.2.2. Lead (Pb) in an amount not exceeding 200μg / liter
5.2.3. Arsenic (As) in an amount not exceeding 100 μg / liter
The distillation must be performed such that the product obtained preserves the aroma and taste of the main components contained in the raw material and formed during the fermentation.
6.1. It is forbidden to add any substance or ingredient after fermentation, or introduced into the distillation equipment which changes the characteristics of sensorial characteristics of the product.
Establishments producing or processing the drinks provided for in this Technical Regulation must comply with hygiene and sanitary standards approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.
- WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
In accordance with specific legislation.
9.1. The norms established by the Regulation of the Law must be obeyed.
No. 8,918, of July 14, 1994, approved by Decree No. 2,314, of September 4 of 1997, and additional administrative acts.
9.2. Only the products listed in items 2.2.8,
2.2.9, 2.2.10 and 2.2.11, the age or the aging time of the Aguardente de Cana and of the Cachaça that are elaborated with 100% of Aguardente de Cana or Cachaça aged for a period of not less than one (1) year.
9.3. In the case of mixtures between the products provided for in items 2.2.8, 2.2.9, 2.2.10 and 2.2.11 of this Technical Regulation, the declaration of age on the label will use the description of the least aged product. In the case of mixtures of products with more than 3 years of aging, products 2.2.10 and 2.2.11, the declaration of age on the label may be applied from the weighted average of the ages of the products using individual volumes as a percentage of anhydrous alcohol. The results whose fractions are greater than 0.5 and equal to or less than 0.5 shall be rounded up to the next higher or lower whole number, respectively.
9.4. The name of the Federation Unit or of the region in question may be where the beverage was produced, when it consists of a geographical indication registered in the National Institute of Intellectual Property – INPI.
9.4.1. The insertion provided in item 9.4 shall be in a position lower than the name of the drink and in graphic characters with a size corresponding to the half of the size used for the denomination of the drink.
9.5. It is forbidden to use the expression “Handcrafted” as a designation, or qualification of the products provided for in this Technical Regulation, until by administrative act of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and The Technical Regulation establishing the criteria and procedures for production and marketing of Aguardente de Cana and artisanal cachaça.
9.6. The term “Special Reserve” may be declared on the label for the Cachaça and the Aguardente de Cana possessing sensorial characteristics, differentiated from normal products made by the applicant, provided that it is duly proven by the applicant. The awards should be issued by public or private laboratories recognized by the MAP.
9.7. The control of the products mentioned in item 9.6 will be based on the certification of differentiated sensorial characteristics, among others, and in the volume in stock, the lots being duly identified by sequential numbering for each unit of the lot.
9.8. It shall be compulsory to declare on the label the expression:
…. (followed by the name of the recipient) of …. (followed by the name of the wood on which the product was stored) for the products defined in sub-items 2.1.1 and 2.1.2, stored in a wooden container and which do not meet the criteria defined for the aging provided for in this Technical Regulation and other own administrative acts.
The term “silver” or “classic” or “traditional” may be associated with the mark for the products defined in items 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 and that are stored in wooden containers, and do not add color to the beverage.
9.8.2. The term gold may be associated with the products defined in items 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 which were stored in wooden containers and which had a substantial change in color.
9.9. For beverages referred to in the sub-items: 2.2.2, 2.2.4, 2.2.7, 2.2.9 and 2.2.11, expressions relating to its distillation process may be used, following:
9.9.1. Be inserted on the label in such a way that it does not characterize name of the drink.
9.9.2. Constituting an expression separate from the others on the label, including name and classification of the drink.
9.9.3. Display graphic character pattern with maximum dimension corresponding to one-half of the size used for the name of the product.
- METHODS OF ANALYSIS
These are those established in administrative acts of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.
The procedures for sampling are those defined in art. 117 and its paragraphs of the Regulations of Law No. 8,918 of July 14, 1994, approved by the Decree No. 2,314, dated September 4, 1997, and by administrative acts of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.
- GENERAL PROVISIONS
Cases not covered here will be resolved by the Department of Product Inspection of Plant Origin of the Secretariat of Agricultural and Livestock Defense of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.
- TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS
13.1 The maximum period of 1 (one) year is established for the adequacy of the labeling and packaging.
13.2 There is established the term of three years for the adequacy and control of contaminants mentioned in items 5.1.3, 5.1.4, 5.1.5, 5.2.2 and 5.2.3.
13.3 The deadline of five years is established for adequacy and control of the contaminant mentioned in item 5.1.2.
Amended by Normative Instruction nº 58 of 12/19/2007.
Amended by Normative Instruction No. 27 of May 15, 2008.
It’s entirely possible I’ve missed something in the translation of these regulations. If you notice something I’ve missed or got wrong, do let me know!