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By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – As anyone who has experienced it can attest, cachaça is a beautiful but dangerous mistress. Seductive, fiery and utterly Brazilian, the sugar-cane firewater can be the sweet making-and-breaking of nights out all over the country and this weekend it will be the toast (in more ways than one) of the 28th Festival da Pinga in Paraty.

Sample traditional cachaças from artisan producers at Festival da Pinga, photo by Mauran Veras/Flickr Creative Commons License.

From Thursday, August 19th to Sunday, August 22nd, the famous colonial city along the south coast of Rio state raises its glass to cachaça, or pinga as it is also known, in a festival of artisan producers, music, dance and photography.

While international mixologists laud Brazil’s pure rum (although it is technically a brandy) and its caipirinha cocktail, cachaça in Brazil is widely consumed but not so widely celebrated. As reported previously in The Rio Times, many drinkers prefer the allure of imported liquors, yet Brazilians still consume roughly 1.5 billion liters of cachaça per year, according to statistics from 2007.

Festival da Pinga, taking place in one of the country’s cachaça-producing hot spots, celebrates the production, variety and character of the sugar cane spirit.

The actual history of the drink, as with much of what is considered traditionally Brazilian, is linked to the slave and lower class populations. The drink was developed in the sixteenth century by the first generation of Portuguese settlers during sugarcane production, who allowed the sugarcane juice to ferment into alcohol. It was given to slaves as it was believed to make them work harder and then later used as a currency to buy slaves in Africa.

For centuries it was produced for slaves and the lower classes and to some extent is still regarded a ‘poor man’s’ drink. Nevertheless, the artisan craft of production, diverse varieties available and nuances of flavor mean that the spirit is starting to gain the respect it deserves and events such as this weekend’s Festival da Pinga offer an opportunity to celebrate this quintessential Brazilian drink.

Festival da Pinga will take place in Paraty's historic center, photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr Creative Commons License.

During the festival, the Praça da Matriz in the heart of the historic center will host stands from seven distilleries featuring eight brands: Corisco, Coqueiro, Engenho D’Ouro, Paratiana/Mulatinha, Maré Cheia, Murycana and Maria Izabel.

Visitors will be able to sample traditional and more alternative flavors, from pure white cachaça (branquinha) to aged golden cachaça and flavored varieties such as banana and caramel. There will also be food stands serving typical local dishes.

Thursday and Friday evenings and all day on Saturday and Sunday will see live entertainment, with performances by local samba, choro, maracatu and reggae groups, whilst the main attraction takes place on Saturday night with a show from Alceu Valença, an MPB singer from Recife who achieved success in Brazil during the 1980s.

But unlike most festivals, it is the drink, not the music, that occupies the event’s focus. Tamsin L’Estrange, the British manager of a hostel just along the coast in Trindade who has attended the festival the last two years, is looking forward sampling the flavors on offer this year.

Of the festival L’Estrange says “it’s a great way to understand one of Brazil’s biggest treasures – cachaça – its roots, how it’s made, why it’s so important, and as Paraty is one of the biggest exporters of the stuff, it’s the perfect setting for the festival. It’s great that you get to spend the weekend tasting all different sorts of pinga for a very small price too.”

Free to enter with special festival prices for cachaça, Festival da Pinga will be inducing headaches as of 6PM on Thursday.

For more information see the Festival webpage.

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