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Ypií³ca: the Rich History of Brazil’s Poor Man’s Drink

Cachaça museum in Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil Visitors to Fortaleza should not miss the chance to visit the Museu da Cachaça in Maranguape, which is about 15 miles from the capital of the Brazilian northeastern state of Ceará. Located at a former distillery of Ypióca, one of the largest producers of cachaça (a spirit distilled from fresh sugar cane) in Brazil, the museum traces the history of the Telles de Menezes family, which is intertwined with the recent history of the state itself.

The first stop during the visit is a stroll through the house where everything began – where the company's founder, Dario Telles de Menezes purchased the grounds where the museum is located today, and after much thinking, he settled on producing aguardente (the product's original name) by using an old alembic he had brought with him when he emigrated from Portugal in 1843.

Back then, cachaça was not bottled, but sold from wooden barrels carried on donkeys' backs. His product was only bottled years later, when Menezes' son, Dario Borges Telles took over the farm in 1895.

During that time, the Ypióca brand was created and marketed locally; during those years, cachaça was seen as a "poor man's drink" (a stigma it more or less carries to this day), and was sold in an affordable manner. Only when the third generation took over, via Paulo Campos Telles in 1924, did the product actually begin to reach a higher class of consumer.

Touring the grounds, you get to taste artisanally made cachaça (extremely strong) and learn about the aging process for the beverage. You also get to know about the various social programs supported by Ypióca, which gives back to the society by donating proceeds from their sales to child welfare programs such as Iprede and the Abrinq Foundations in Brazil, and sample the various brands included in their production line.

The museum is still active in the aging process of cachaça, and they own the biggest wooden barrel in the world, certified by the Guinness book of records.

They also have a 1930s-style pub, a large restaurant and various attractions including the Bodega de Seu Zé, a small bar that is named in honor of Zé Leite, a longtime employee who had the idea for the museum's creation and who also wrote a short book, Ypióca – Sua História, Minha Vida" (Ypióca, Its History, My Life), which narrates his own life throughout the company's history. Mr, Leite passed away in 2002, but his legacy lives on – not only is he honored in the museum, but his daughter is also employed there.

Today Ypióca is one of the largest producers of cachaça in Brazil; they export their line of products to various countries, including the US. It's hard to find a bottle of Ypióca in New York, though; the only place I was able to get one was at Ferry Liquors in Newark, New Jersey.

In addition to the simpler brands, they also market a high-end cachaça called 160, which is blended with imported malt whiskies, giving it a special taste; they also produce Acayu, a cachaça made from the cashew juice, and more recently the company has introduced an organic line.

Visiting the museum is a breathtaking experience; the climate in Maranguape is milder than in Fortaleza, and what you learn (and taste) stays with you forever. For more, visit http://www.ypioca.com.br/

Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at ebarteldes@yahoo.com.

The picture is by Renata Baluk.

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  • Show Comments (5)

  • Ric

    Well, thanks for the tip.

  • Ernest Barteldes

    to Cluther and Ric
    Cluther, you are right about the ill feeling about Brazilian wine; there are some fine vintages coming out of Brazil, but there is a stigma on the national product due to the fact that for many years Brazilian wine was below par. At my last visit in July, I did sample some fine examples of local wineries and was surprised; in Brazil, Argentinean, Chilean and Portuguese wines seem to be more popular among the upper crust (totally unscientific findings, though). As for the dragon breath of cachaca, try the organic flavored cachaca, which leave none of it

  • Ric

    Slightly Insulted Was the Host, Eh?
    ItÀ‚´s none of the above, you goop. ItÀ‚´s that cachaÀƒ§a is ubuquitous and in many places, free at the counter by the shot. And the smell on the breath is easily identifiable and offensive to most. Could be any drink, vodka in Russia for example. But for the Brazilians unloading ships, cutting cane, pushing carts, hacking down the jungle, carrying sacks of cement on their heads, when itÀ‚´s over they canÀ‚´t afford Old Eight and canÀ‚´t order a cocktail, and when itÀ‚´s time to pass out they drink cachaÀƒ§a. Let them sleep it off. Perhaps if they didnÀ‚´t have it they would murder their masters like the Haitians did to the French. There are a lot of cheaper pingas than 51 and the one mentioned above……

  • cluther

    CachaÀƒ§a and Brazilian’s anti-Brazilian bias
    It is a very Brazilian comment to suggest that it is CachaÀƒ§a, not alcoholism or any number of other social ills, which makes people poor. It is an example of the social stigma that CachaÀƒ§a carries with the Brazilian middle and upper class (as noted by the article’s author).

    A similar stigma is attached to by Brazilians to anything Brazilian made – a belief that ANYTHING foreign made is better than domestic. So while CachaÀƒ§a and caiparinhas are the rage at sophisticated bars in Europe the sophisticated Brazilians drink less interesting caiparioskis (made with imported vodka). It’s been explained to me that this anti-Brazilian bias is a hang-over from the colonization but it continues to baffle me considering the quality of many Brazilian goods these days (from food to furniture, clothing and airplanes). The Brazilians will call me naive, but I wonder how many more social problems Brazilians could solve if they only believed in themselves more.

    Until that day arrives I advise other gringos not to make the social faux-paux of bringing vino nacional (Brazilian wine) as a gift when invited to a dinner party in Brazil. While I found the wine to be surprisingly good, I later found out (through a 3rd party of course) that the host was slightly insulted by my gift.

  • Ric

    Dealing With Hopelessness
    According to some comentators, cachaca is why many poor stay poor.

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