Pinga is a Brazilian distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. It is also called aguardente or cachaça, and besides those names it has about 2,000 regional nicknames. It is big business in Brazil and the liquor is exported to more than 60 countries, with Germany being the #1 importer. However, it is hard to know exactly how big a business it actually is because there are so many small artisanal producers who cheerfully work below the radar of the Brazilian legislation that production. It’s not unlawful to produce your own pinga for home consumption.
Like rum, pinga has two varieties; first there is the unaged pinga, which is white and usually bottled right after distillation. White pinga is cheaper. Then there is the aged pinga, which is darker and considered premium quality. Dark pinga is aged in wooden barrels for 3 – 15 years and it is meant to be straight. Anyone and everyone who visits Brazil tries a popular tropical drink called a caipirinha, made from pinga, sugar, ice and lime juice. The word caipirinha means “little country girl” and the drink is a national patrimony of Brazil protected by law as such. There are a lot of theories about where this drink came from, but most historians believe that it came from the lovely town of Paraty, just 160 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro. There are documents dating back to the 1800s that mention a recipe for something like caipirinhas being used to substitute drinking water during a cholera epidemic in Paraty.
But it stands to reason that pinga came before the caipirinha cocktail. Historians believe that the history of pinga began in the early 1500s. During the Brazilian slave era, (early 1500s – 1856) slaves used to sugarcane juice into large copper boiler pots to make molasses. It had to be cooked over a slow and even fire, while stirring continuously until it thickened and became creamy.
One day, exhausted from the heavy syrup for so long and knowing they had other chores waiting for them, the slaves simply stopped working over the pot. That quickly ruined the molasses. They knew they couldn’t show their overseer the gunky molasses so they hid it from his sight. The next day, they discovered the molasses had fermented and gone sour. Trying to cover up, they mixed the sour molasses into the new pot they were beginning that day and put it on the fire.
But the molasses from the day before that had fermented had turned into alcohol. It began to slowly evaporate and started to form droplets on the ceiling of the mill. Those droplets began to slowly and steadily down.
Those droplets were full-fledged cachaça. And that’s where the name “pinga” came from; the word pinga means to drip or a drop in Portuguese. The backs of the slaves who toiled over the large pots were cut and scarred from whippings from their slave masters. The dripping cachaça their maltreated backs. They soon named the brew “agua-ardente”. This word means stinging water in Portuguese.
And as it also dripped onto their faces and into their mouths, the slaves soon realized that these droplets made them feel like dancing and somehow made them a little happier. They soon began to repeat their new recipe whenever they needed a bit of relief or happiness in their hopeless lives.
Tattoos have been around for more than 5,000 years. Egyptians, for example, used tattoos to differentiate between peasants and slaves, a kind of social branding. But ink art, which is what some fans like to call tattooing, has really exploded in the past 25 years. But not all of us have succumbed to this fad. And many of us who don’t have a tattoo have a favorite mug. Having a tattoo or becoming attached to a mug are not dissimilar. According to research, 60% of Americans say they have an emotional attachment to a favorite mug. And about 40% said their special mug was irreplaceable, and about 1/3 of those said they would be devastated if it broke. Personally, I think that most of these people don’t have tattoos. Mugs and tattoos are both an extension of our personalities, and both express the way we would like the world to perceive us. That is not to mention, of course, that those of us who have tattoos or mugs are often irrationally attached to them.