What is it? It’s the national spirit of Brazil. It’s kinda like rum….but not really. By law it must be 38 to 48 percent alcohol by volume (that’s 76 to 96 proof), and be produced in Brazil. Rum can be made anywhere. They’re both made from sugar cane, but where rum is made from molasses or processed cane, cachaça is created by using fresh pressed, unprocessed cane juice. It’s clear, it’s fruity and herbaceous and complex. It’s also a little sweet and a little funky – in the best way possible. Oh, and it’s pronounced Ca-Sha-Sa.
What else gives cachaça its unique flavor? All around the world, oak barrels are traditionally used for aging spirits, from bourbon to scotch to wine. Depending on how long the spirit is rested in a barrel, and how the barrel is stored and handled, the oak imparts various flavors to the finished product. In Brazil, in addition to oak, cachaça producer also use various native wood which impact the finished product. Different types of wood result in different coloration, aroma and flavor.
Why haven’t I heard of it before? Don’t know, where have you been doing your drinking? Wildly popular in its home country where there are more than 5,000 brands available, cachaça producers run the gamut from artisanal/boutique to industrial. Subsequently, the quality can also be all over the map from cheap, harsh and terrible tasting to complex, mellow and smooth.
Sounds complicated. So which cachaca should I try? I like to stick with brands I spy on the shelves of my favorite bars. That means Leblon, which has had a big U.S. marketing campaign behind it, the artisanal Avua, and the unique Novo Fogo. How unique? First off, Novo Fogo is certified USDA organic, handcrafted at a zero-waste distillery. Remember what I told you about how cachaça is rested in barrels? Well Novo Fogo re-uses oak barrels which have been sanded and retoasted. They found that certain barrels yielded an exceptional final product, which they have just released as their Single-Barrel expressions—cachaças of unique flavor and character. These Single-Barrel Cachaças range in age from 1 to 5 years and are only available in very limited supply. Prices start at $50 for the one-year-old and can go up to $100 for the 5-year-old. They are worth seeking out.
So how is cachaça best enjoyed? Glad you asked. The national drink of Brazil is the caipirinha, a sort of samba-dancing cousin to the mojito. I love 3-ingredient cocktails and this is one of my favorites. Novo Fogo Single-Barrel Cachaças are beautiful for sipping over ice or mixed in variations of classic cocktails. Read on for the recipe, and a few other ideas for drinking cachaça
2 oz cachaça
1¼ Tbs sugar
½ a lime
Cut lime into wedges and place them, along with sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Muddle the limes. Fill glass with ice and add cachaça. Stir and serve.
Antiquado (A Brazilian Old-Fashioned)
2 oz Novo Fogo Barrel Aged Cachaça
½ oz cinnamon syrup
2 dashes of chocolate bitters
Place the cinnamon syrup at the bottom of the glass. Nearly fill the glass with ice, then add cachaça and bitter. Stir and fill glass with ice. Squeeze an orange peel over the glass and drop it in.
1 oz Barrel-Aged Novo Fogo Cachaça
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet red vermouth
Stir with ice and strain in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
1½ oz Barrel-Aged Cachaça
¾ oz Amaretto
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup (3:2)
Shake ingredients with ice and pour over fresh ice. Feeling fancy? Add an egg white, shake dry (hard), shake with ice, fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with bitters.