Meet Cachaça, Brazil’s Most Popular Spirit

Distilled with surgarcane, cachaça comes in wide array of flavors perfect for sipping or mixing into many cocktails. Here are the bottles to look for.
Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça / Photo courtesy of Novo Fogo / Facebook

This category has quietly been on the ascent for years, although it rarely seems to capture headlines. But now may be the time for the world to pay closer attention ­Brazil’s most popular spirit.

Like rum, cachaça is distilled from sugar­cane. The flavor of white cachaças seems to hover somewhere between the tropical fruit funk of agricole rums and crisp silver rums, laced with lime zest and bright hints of ripe banana or lychee. These silver cachaças are ready for mixing into Daiquiris as well as Brazil’s signature cocktail, the Caipirinha.

Producers are also honing in on South American provenance by experimenting with wood varieties that are unique to the region.

The barrel-aged bottlings are where the spirit really shines. In general, the flavors are lighter than rum, embracing honey, toasted coconut and confectionary notes that suggest banana pudding, fresh-baked vanilla cookies and spice.

Producers are also honing in on South American provenance by experimenting with wood varieties that are unique to the region. For example, Novo Fogo uses ­araiba, also called zebrawood, to create earthy mocha and sprightly orange notes in its Tanager bottling. Meanwhile, wood from the Brazil nut tree adds luscious layers of dried cherry and cocoa-dusted custard to the Graciosa bottling. Avúa utilizes casks made with jequitibá-rosa, a hardwood variety, to add tinges of vanilla and spice.

While the classic Caipirinha is the most common way to work cachaça into cocktails, bartenders are continuing to experiment with the spirit. For example, at Detroit’s Gold Cash Gold, bartender Marlowe Johnson’s Dama Blanca combines Soul cachaça with coconut water, white wine syrup and a dash of grapefruit bitters.

Another sign that the spirit may be headed to more cocktail menus soon: At least one producer, Avúa, has introduced a higher-proof bottling to encourage bartenders to mix into tiki drinks. Also reviewed this month is a batch of rums.

How Haiti is Making Some of the Best Rum on Earth

Cachaça

Maison Leblon Reserva Especial Cachaça (Brazil; Leblon USA, Coral Gables, FL); $20/375 ml, 96 points. This single-batch cachaça opens with hints of banana cake, baking spice and golden raisins on the nose and palate, and slips down the throat as smooth as spiced honey. Each sip finishes with a restorative lemon zest tone and a soft vanilla glow. abv: 40% 

Novo Fogo Graciosa Cachaça (Brazil; Novo Fogo, Issaquah, WA); $35, 95 points. This incredibly complex sipper entices with aromas of vanilla, honey and ripe banana. These are echoed on the palate, layered with surprising dried cherry and dusty cocoa notes, which linger into the long, gently spiced finish. A good option for an Old Fashioned variation. abv: 42% 

Novo Fogo Tanager Cachaça (Brazil; Novo Fogo, Issaquah, WA); $35, 95 points. This tawny cachaça is aged in oak and araiba wood. The latter accounts for the orange hue as well as tones of earthy mocha and dried fruit on the nose and palate. Look for vibrant, mouthwatering fruit up front—juicy orange, dried cherry, dried fig and orange peel, smoothed by a fudge-tinged, drying exit. All it needs is ice. abv: 42% 

Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged Cachaça (Brazil; Novo Fogo, Issaquah, WA); $35, 94 points. Golden and bright in the glass, look for a mild, honeyed aroma accented by tropical fruit. The bold palate shows plenty of vanilla, coconut and brown sugar sweetness, underpinned by ripe banana and finishing with delicate mocha, nutmeg and ginger flecks. Aged two years. abv: 40% 

Avúa Jequitiba Rosa Cachaça (Brazil; Park Street Imports, Miami, FL); $60, 93 points. Look for just the faintest ruddy tinge in the glass and mild aromas of banana and coconut. The palate is sweet, opening with grassy, herbal notes and leading into a juicy, mouthwatering finish that suggests raspberry and vanilla sprinkled with black pepper and clove. Aged up to two years in a cask made from jequitibá-rosa, a hardwood tree that grows in Brazil. abv: 40% 

Leblon Cachaça (Brazil; Leblon USA, Coral Gables, FL); $27, 92 points. This cachaça has a faint yellowish tinge and an aroma that tilts both funky and sweet, suggesting ripe banana plus hints of coconut and lychee. Vanilla sweetness leads the robust palate, finishing with plenty of ripe fruit tapering off to cinnamon and spearmint on the exhale. Best Buy. abv: 40% 

Soul Premium Cachaça (Brazil; Bibo International, Newport, RI); $25, 92 points. The aroma entices with tones of lychee and flowers. The palate is bright and bouncy, echoing that lychee note, along with hints of bubblegum, white pepper and pink peppercorn that finish long and elegantly on a rosewater exhale. Best Buy. abv: 40%

Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça (Brazil; Novo Fogo, Issaquah, WA); $30, 90 points. Look for a distinctly funky aroma that suggests banana and lemongrass. The palate is light and silky, reflecting the tropical aromas and grassy funk. The long fade pulls in lime acidity and an earthy, mushroom-like umami note. abv: 40%

Avuá Still Strength Cachaça (Brazil; Park Street Imports, Miami, FL); $38, 89 points. A distinctly funky aroma hints at banana and a green bamboo note. The palate is bursting with banana and lychee flavors, rolling into a robust, spicy, drying finish loaded with ginger, white pepper and hot cinnamon. abv: 45%

Rum

Barceló Imperial Onyx Rum (Dominican Republic; Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, FL); $40, 94 points. This deep amber-hued rum offers a caramel aroma, with an intriguing hint of violet. The silky palate opens with caramel and brown butter, accented by dried fig and walnut, finishing long and gently spiced. Made with a blend of rums aged for 10 years in ex-Bourbon casks with heavy char, then filtered through onyx stones. That unique filtration may not add much except a point to contemplate while sipping, which is highly encouraged. abv: 40% 

Santa Teresa 1796 Solera Rum (Venezuela; Bacardi, Coral Gables, FL); $40, 94 points. Made with a blend of rums ranging from four to 35 years, look for a mild caramel aroma and plush palate echoing with rich vanilla bean, fudge and mocha. The drying finish weaves in oak and walnut, laced with a bit of clove zing. abv: 40%

Dubar Imperial Rum (Dominican Republic; RLD Imports, Houston, TX); $45, 92 points. Vanilla sweetness leads the nose and palate. The first sip of this rum adds hints of sarsaparilla and allspice, which carries through to the rounded finish. Made with a blend of 13-, 15- and 19-year-old rums married in ex-Bourbon casks. abv: 40% 

Published on August 13, 2018
Topics: Drinks
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of several cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip. and NIGHTCAP: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening, which debuts in September 2018. Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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