Have you been pining for a Brazilian beach vacation? National Cachaca Day, which was Sept. 13, gave me a few ideas of how to create that vacation vibe at home.
Cachaça is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. The process dates to 1532, when a Portuguese colonist brought the first cuttings of sugarcane to Brazil.
Cachaça is considered the first distilled cane spirit of the Americas, predating rum by nearly 100 years. It can be produced only in Brazil. Unlike rum, the sugarcane juice is fermented before being distilled.
There are two types of cachaça — silver and gold. Cachaça silver, also referred to as white, is not rested or aged and is a clear spirit. It is typically drier and has intense sugarcane flavors; cachaça gold, or yellow, is aged in wood casks and takes on the distinct colors and aromas of the wood. With a deeper color, gold is a more premium product.
Tom Stockley, co-founder of Abelha Organic Cachaça, said, “Cachaça is a very pure spirit because it’s typically taken off the still between 45 to 55% ABV [90 to 110 proof] and is therefore blended down with less water compared to other spirits like vodka, gin and whisky. At Abelha we pride ourselves on keeping the distillate as organic as possible, so whilst other cachaça brands can legally add up to six grams of sugar per liter, we don’t add any.”
There are more than 20 types of wood used to age cachaça in Brazil. Common varieties include balsamo, jequitiba, amburana, castanheira, freijo and ipê, all of which impart unique flavors and nuanced characteristics.
Abelha is the only cachaça maker in Brazil that ages in garapeira, a type of Brazilian ash that is a lot harder than typical woods used for aging.
Stockley said it takes time and effort for the cachaça to draw out the wood’s flavors of stone fruits and banana on the nose, with honeyed and spiced, almost peppery, notes on the pallet and a smooth, dry finish.
For a cocktail, Stockley suggests a classic caipirinha or a Prata Rosa, created by The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley:
1 1/2 oz. Abelha Organic Cachaça Prata
1 oz. The Perfect Purée Pink Guava Puree, thawed
1/8 oz. vanilla concentrate
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 oz. ginger beer
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
1. In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients with ice, except the ginger beer and Angostura.
2. Shake and serve on the rocks.
3. Top with ginger beer and Angostura bitters, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a lemon wheel.
Luke McKinley, marketing director of cachaça maker Novo Fogo, saud silver and barrel-aged cachaças are two sides of the same coin, offering variations for cocktails (typically silver) and sipping (more often gold).
Novo Fogo’s unaged cachaça, or cachaça prata, is the spirit in its purest form. Sugarcane is pressed immediately after harvesting, fermenting the juice into wine with wild yeast. McKinley said the usual aging follows the southern Brazilian tradition of using repurposed American oak bourbon barrels as the backbone of its barrel-aged expressions.
“As the liquid sits for months on end in our adegas, or aging rooms,” McKinley said, “it absorbs a wide range of flavors and aromas from the wood. Air that contacts the cachaça through the barrels’ pores oxidizes the spirit to make it more complex, structured and elegant.”
In addition to the one-year chameleon and two-year barrel-aged expressions in Novo Fogo’s core line, the distillery has developed several two-wood cachaças that are aged in American oak and finished in Brazilian woods, introducing entirely new worlds of flavor and aroma to the finished cachaça, McKinley said. The program is limited and designed to raise awareness of conservation efforts, because many Brazilian woods used for aging cachaça are threatened by illegal logging.
Want to go beyond a caipirinha or mojito? Jackson resident Dave Kaplan, owner of Death & Company, suggests this cocktail to make at home:
1.25 oz. Gourry de Chadeville Overproof Cognac
0.5 oz. Clear Creek Blue Plum Brandy
0.25 oz. Avua Amburana Cachaça
0.25 oz. Nardini Amaro
0.25 oz. honey syrup
Glass: Julep tin with crushed ice
Garnish: Mint or ground cocoa nibs
Origin: Jarred Weigand, D&C EV, 2019
Novo Fogo offers canned caipirinhas at Novofogo.PassionSpirits.com/novo-fogo/novo-fogo-sparkling-caipirinha-24-pack.html. ￼