If you were one of the millions of people who watched any coverage of the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, you probably heard either the commentators or athletes raving about a local drink called the caipirinha. The caipirinha is a traditional Brazilian drink that combines lime, sugar, and the Brazilian spirit of cachaça (pronounced kun-SHAH-sa).

But what exactly is cachaca? At its most basic level, cachaça is a kind of rum. Rum and cachaça are both made from sugar cane and, as anthropologists are beginning to believe, were both invented in Brazil. They differ, however, in their production method. Cachaça is made from freshly pressed cane sugar juice that is fermented and then distilled, while rum is made from molasses. You’ll sometimes see cachaça referred to as Brazilian rum, but this misnomer is quickly falling out of use. Since 2013, when a treaty between the Brazilian and U.S. governments was signed, cachaça has been legally recognized as a separate entity from rum.

Though cachaça is often bottled immediately after distillation, in a few instances it can be aged like rum. Cachaça is unique in that it can be aged in any number of different woods. You’ll commonly find it aged in American or French oak, but it’s also aged in many of the unique woods that are found only in Brazil to give it a unique flavor.

Almost 400 million gallons are produced in Brazil, with over 95% of it being consumed there. A majority of what is exported is drunk in Germany, Japan, and Portugal, three countries with large Brazilian expat populations.

So what does cachaça actually taste like? Like rum, it can range widely based on production methods, with flavors that include baked fruits, herbs, and a leafy, herbal flavor that makes you feel like you’re drinking the Brazilian rainforest. Oak aged cachaças will often take on the character of the barrels they’re aged in with spicy or caramel-like flavors.

Cachaça can be used to make any number of amazing cocktails. Check out a few of our favorites below!

Jag milk

Even though the word cocktail wouldn’t be invented until the 1800’s the practice of blending different liquors together was alive and well in the American colonies. Rum was the predominate spirit for the time due to the low cost of shipping from Caribbean ports to America. Here are two rum-based cocktails that were widely drunk during the time of the American Revolution.

Stone Fence

This simple cocktail is a blend of aged rum and hard cider. Its simplicity and the easy availability of its ingredients made it popular among soldiers on both sides of the Revolutionary War. It was a favorite drink of Colonel Ethan Allen who gave it to his soldiers the night before he led them in the battle that captured Fort Ticonderoga in the weeks of the war. For a slightly sweeter drink, try using a sweeter cider such as Stella Artois Cidre. 

Martha Washington's Punch

Even before her husband George became the first president, Martha Washington was known as a great entertainer. She was known for the elaborate dinner parties she would host, and for the extravagant drinks that would be served there. George Washington was a great fan of fortified wines such as Port and Madeira, but it’s Martha’s punch recipe that still is still used almost 250 years later. This recipe blends multiple rums with fruit for a spicy party drink. Though Martha wouldn’t have had any club soda to add to her punch, we think it’s a great addition that adds a little effervescence to the drink.