Here at Mapa da Cachaça, we often travel around Brazil meeting different small producers of cachaça in different regions. In our last voyage, we visited several small distilleries located in Paraty, one of the great regions for artisanal cachaça. A new friend pointed us to an old government document that already stated that in the 1800s, the cachaça produced in this region was prestigious in the colonial period of Brazil.
“The voyagers which brought the cachaça to Minas Gerais, [the other traditional area for artisanal cachaça] brought their opulent spirit to us here in Minas.” – Don Antônio Rollim de Moura, Count of Azambuja, Governor of Goias at Mato Grosso, 1750).”
In the four nights we spent in the city of Paraty, beyond our technical and historical research, we were seeking the essence of the cachaças of Paraty, their terroir’s characteristics, as well as understanding how the cachaças were used in the local gastronomy.
In this research, we made a fascinating discovery about the drinks of Paraty.
“The Caipirinha comes from Paraty”
The Caipirinha means “little peasant girl”. It is one of the great classic cocktails of the world and the national drink of Brazil. With its principal ingredient – cachaça – the drink is protected by law as the national patrimony of Brazil. For all that, very little is known about its origin. In the beginning, we believed that the name of caipirinha was a drink that was initially discovered in the interior of Minas Gerais or Sao Paulo, land of caipiras. But it was in Paraty, in Rio de Janeiro, that we encountered the oldest known record of the inspiration of this old cocktail.
The historian from Paraty Diuner Mello discovered a document from 1856 which discovered a reference to this cocktail in documents discussing an epidemic of cholera in the area. It was a document by the civil engineer João Pinto Gomes Lamego who described a recipe which seems to be the origin of what we today call the caipirinha.
“because [of the concern with cholera and water], by necessity we began mixing medium aguardiente with water, sugar and limes, because it was prohibited to drink straight water.” (Official Register of the Mayor, pag. 139, 1856)
As a popular remedy, the caipirinha today is one of the most consumed cocktails in the world, as demonstrated by its inclusion by the International Bartender Association as one of the 7 basic classic cocktails of the world, being very much appreciated outside and inside Brazil with its base spirit, cachaça.
In our journeys, we have before discovered various theories about the possible origin of this native Brazilian drink. Some historians state that it might have an origin in Santos, in the coast of São Paulo, region where the first distilleries of cachaca were produced. Other versions give the credit to Carlota Joaquina, the tragic Spanish princess of the Portuguese Empire in Brazil, who first mixed cachaca with indigenous Brazilian fruits. We even see funny theories, such as that an actor that played Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes was the origin of it. While it remains a mystery and must continue to be researched (oh the tragedy!), the version from Paraty, a small town close to Rio de Janeiro, is the oldest that we can discover.