What exactly is Cachaca?
By definition, it is a a spirit made from fermenting and distilling fresh sugarcane juice.
But similar to the way that whiskey can only be labeled Scotch if it is made in Scotland, fresh sugarcane alcohol can only be labeled as Cachaca if it is from Brazil.
Chances are that your first encounter with Cachaca was (or will be) with the increasingly popular Caipirinha cocktail, which has recently made its’ way across the world as an incredibly refreshing summer drink.
Cachaca’s long history dates back hundreds of years, and Brazilians take great pride in its’ production (and rightfully so).
Centuries ago, sugarcane was spread through South America and the Caribbean by European explorers, and it took off. The climates were perfect for sugarcane to thrive and as a result the production of rum throughout the area began to boom.
The distillers in Brazil opted to use fresh sugarcane instead of the molasses that was more commonly used, which gives Cachaca its’ unique flavor.
There are several different categories for the spirit based on the aging process.
Branca, white, or prata are all terms used to classify a version of the spirit that has either been aged in stainless steel, or a wood that does not impart any color. This version is the most raw and bold. You could draw some comparisons to the way that a blanco tequila has a really strong young flavor.
Next is Amerala, Yellow or Ouro. These are used to denote Cachaca that has been stored in wood.
One step further then, are the Premium version (aged in wood for no less than a year), and Extra Premium which is aged in wood for at least 3 years, and sometimes well past 10 years.
So what does Cachaca taste like?
If you have every had a taste of Rhum Agricole, you have a pretty solid flavor reference point.
It has that same bold “green” brightness that tastes like fresh vegetables, overripe fruits, freshly mown grass and funkiness that is a bit tricky for me to describe. It is a term used often when describing rum, but it does not have the same meaning that funk does when you are talking about fancy cheeses or something that has gone sour.
It’s more of a strongly aromatic collection of smells.
Butterscotch, caramel, and warm winter spices collide with the notes of tropical fruit and citrus to create what is described as “funk”. But none of these descriptors should scare people off! People use lot’s of words to describe Cachaca because it is tricky to pin down, but by no means is it unapproachable or really weird.
Where things start to get more unique than other categories of spirits is with the premium aged options of Cachaca.
Many spirits like whiskey, cognac or vodka have very specific rules on what can and cannot be used in making and aging the spirits, but Cachaca does not. It does have to be made of fresh cane juice and contain 38-48% alcohol, but the aging process is open ended giving small distilleries lots of room to experiment and create new flavors.
Lot’s of the unique flavor Cachacas come from the unique Brazilian woods they are aged in.
Arauva, Balm, Jequitiba and many other exotic woods impart different flavors onto the aging spirit. Felipe Jannuzzi put together a massive project on Cachaca and all of it’s different flavors that you can see the translation of at HERE, or you can read it in Portuguese if you know how.
Some of the most noted characteristics of aged versions are more mellow and softer flavors with notes of toffee, and warm spices.
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Using Cachaca in cocktails
Of course you can use any brand or style of Cachaca in the classic Caipirinha, but it’s unique flavor is helping it appear on bar menus all over.
It can work well with so many different flavors.
All sorts of fruits could work really well, as do some more unique ingredients like herbal liqueurs, syrups or spices. You could also work it in to many different styles of drinks. A bright Cachaca would be great with multiple flavors in a shaken fruity cocktail, or a complex Extra Premium Cachaca could be great in a simple Old Fashioned style drink.
A few good Cachaca brands
I am not the king of Cachaca and I have not had the chance to try many of them, but these are a few good options to start you off.
Many liquor stores do not stock many different options, but keep your eye out as the market keeps expanding. You could also ask somebody there if they will ever order a bottle you are interested in, or maybe one of these brands.
1. LEBLON: Made using a careful process with hand cut cane stalks, gentile juice extraction and copper pot stills. Leblon is reasonably available in stores and has a really great bright complexity with a background of spices that is contributed by spending up to six months in ex-Cognac barrels.
2. NOVO FOGO: Cultivated and distilled in the town of Merretes, Novo Fogo Cachacas are organic and created sustainably in their beautiful rain forest environment. They have their three core bottlings which are either rested in stainless steel or aged in American Oak, but they also offer many different single barrel bottles aged in unique Brazilian woods.
3. YAGUARA: Offering a Branca, Oro and their “Blue” blended Cachaca, Yaguara has been distilling and blending Cachaca for generations. They are proud of their heritage and most noted for their blending of old barrel aged and young rested Cachacas for a unique profile.
4. AVUA: Made with cane harvested from a 3rd generation farm near Rio, Avua creates Cachaca with the intent of making it more than just something to add to a Caipirinha. They have offerings of un-aged and oak aged Cachacas, as well as different experiments created using native Brazilian wood casks like Amburana, Tapinhoa and Balsamo.
Get out there and try some Cachaca.
USEFUL LINKS: Caipirinha