Sugar Cane-Based Spirits

Sugar cane, a member of the grass family, is the source of sugar in all tropical and subtropical countries of the world. Several species of Saccharum are found in Southeast Asia and neighboring islands, and from these, cultivated cane probably originated. The sweet juice and crystallized sugar were known in China and India some 2500 years ago. Sugar cane reached the Mediterranean countries in the eighth century A.D., and reached the Americas in early colonial times. Most Cachacas, Rhums and Rums offer white (blanco, platino, silver), dark and aged (anejo) styles. Flavored, spiced and creams are also popular.


Agricultural rum (or habitant rum) is an alcohol obtained by distilling the fresh, fermented cane juice. Mainly produced in the French West Indies (Martinique and Guadeloupe), it is a high quality rum well known and appreciated for its specific aromas and flavors.


Most Rum is made from molasses. Molasses is the sweet, sticky residue that remains after sugar cane juice is boiled and the crystallized sugar is extracted. Molasses is over 50% sugar, but it also contains significant amounts of minerals and other trace elements, which can contribute to the final flavor.


Cachaca is a Brazilian liquor made from distilled sugar cane juice. While rum is distilled from molasses, cachaca is distilled directly from the juice of the unrefined sugar cane. Before distillation, the juice ferments in a wood or copper container for three weeks, and is then boiled down three times to a concentrate. Cachaca is always distilled in such a way that the scent of sugar cane and inimitable flavor typical of rum are retained. Unaged, Aged and Flavored varieties are marketed. There are over 5,000 known Cachaca’s in Brazil. Popular in caipirinhas and batidas.


Aguardiente (Spanish), Aguardente (Portuguese) or Augardente (Galician) is the generic name for alcoholic drinks between 29 and 45 % alcohol, meaning ‘firewater’, or, literally, “burning water”.

Central & South America

In Mexico and Colombia, Aguardiente is derived from sugar cane. In Colombia, Aguardiente is an anise-flavored liqueur derived from sugar cane, popular in the Andean region. By adding different amounts of aniseed, different flavors are obtained, leading to extensive marketing and fierce competition between brands. Aguardiente has 29% alcohol content. Aguardiente has become the most popular alcoholic beverage in all of Colombia where it is consumed as individual shots and rarely used in cocktails.


In Chile, aguardiente is an alcoholic beverage of 45% an over of alcohol content per volume. It is made by distilling the grape residue, primarily the skins and pulp, plus the stems and seeds left over from winemaking. It is used to make several other flavored liquors like the ‘Murtado’ (using sun dried fruit). Dried mint, peeled walnuts, almonds and other aromatic herbs are also used to flavor aguardiente.


In Portugal, Aguardente is distilled from vinho verde grapes, using a process similar to the French Cognac. It is often aged in oak barrels previously used for Port wine.

Related Spirits (not sugar cane-based)


(from Quechua: pisqu, little bird) is a liquor distilled from grapes (a brandy) made in wine-producing regions of Peru and Chile. It is the most widely consumed spirit in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The right to produce and promote pisco has been the matter of legal disputes between Chile and Peru, in both of which the most iconic cocktail is the Pisco Sour ( recipe, courtesy of link here).

Cordials & Liqueurs

A liqueur is a sweet alcoholic beverage, often flavored with fruits, herbs, spices, flowers, seeds, plants, barks and sometimes cream. The word liqueur comes from the Latin word liquifacere which means ‘to dissolve’. This refers to the dissolving of the flavorings used to make liqueur. Liqueurs are not usually aged for long periods, but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to marry.

In some parts of the world, people use the words cordial and liqueur interchangeably. Though in these places the two expressions both describe liqueurs made by redistilling spirits with aromatic flavorings and are usually highly sweetened, there are some differences. While liqueurs are usually flavored with herbs, cordials are generally prepared with fruit pulp or juices. Most liqueurs are noticeably sweet.

Liqueurs date back centuries and are historical descendants of herbal medicines, often those prepared by monks (as Chartreuse or Benedictine). Liqueurs were made in Italy as early as the 13 th century and their consumption was later required at all treaty signings during the Middle Ages.

Today, liqueurs are made worldwide and are served in many ways, by themselves, poured over ice, mixed with cream, coffee or other mixers.

Some liqueurs are prepared by infusing certain woods, fruits or flowers, in either water or alcohol (often sugar cane-based), adding sugar or other items. Others are distilled from aromatic or flavoring agents.

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October 13, 2011

Liquid Living Magazine