Cachaça is very fun to say out loud. Kay-Cha-SA! It’s also very fun to drink. Generally, people outside of Brazil know of cachaça thanks to long summer nights spent drinking it in the lime and sugar concoction known as the Caipirinha. That cocktail has a great acidic base, mixed with a hefty dose of sugar that works wonders with the warming sugary alcohol. But cachaça is more than just one cocktail — so let’s take a quick look at what makes the spirit so unique.
Cachaça is technically a variety of rum. The style dates back to 1532 and a bit of Portuguese colonizing, alongside a need to get tipsy while rampaging across the New World. Ever since those early days, it has been made from sugar cane juice that’s fermented then distilled. Standard rums tend to be made with molasses (a byproduct of processing sugar cane into sugar). However, there’s a bit of ambiguity as to what makes rum, well, rum. Rum can be any distillate that’s made with a sugar base. So sugar beets qualify in some cases. It’s murky.
Cachaça’s closest relative in the world of spirits is Rhum Agricole. Both are made from sugar cane juice. The difference being Rhum Agricole is made in the Caribbean and cachaça is made in Brazil. And that’s really it. Otherwise, they’re pretty much the same product.
Where cachaça gets interesting — and how it can stands above Rhum Agricole — is the barreling process. Brazil is famous for it’s wide array of unique and rare woods from the Amazon. While white cachaça (branca or prata) generally doesn’t touch wood, it does spend time resting in stainless steel tanks. Much the same as your average white rum will do. Aged cachaça (amarela or ouro) spends time mellowing in barrels of various woods from around the world and around the Amazon. Rare Amazonian woods are almost never used to age any other spirit. So in many cases, when you find a special bottle of cachaça that’s been aged in Zebrawood or Ipê, you’re tasting something wholly unique.
Let’s dive into eight essential bottles of cachaça that’ll give you a head start on getting to know the spirit. We’ve split them up into four white and four aged to add a little variety. Happy cachaça hunting!
Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça
Novo Fogo is picky about their sugar cane. Their organic product is hand selected and only 11 percent of it makes the final cut for fermentation and then pot distilling (the rest is mulched and turned into sugar cane fertilizer). After distillation, the spirit is rested in stainless steel tanks to let the flavors mellow.
Expect a large rush of roasted bananas, light notes of sugar cane, and whiffs of grass and plums in the background. When it comes to cachaça, this is a great place to start your journey.
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Popped into @poppyseattle to get a taste of @baldnbearded's entry to the @usbgwa cocktail competition. For anyone following along, we have ~30 Washington state participants all vying for a chance to win a trip to Brazil to visit the #novofogo distillery in person. This submission is called "Bebida da Terra." Ingredients are: Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça, blueberry and blackberry shrubs, lemon, and cucumber. . . .#cachaca #cachaça #cocktail #novofogo #usbgwa #usbg #seattle #poppyseattle
Avuá Prata Cachaça
Avuá Prata’s path is similar to that of most cachaça’s. The sugar cane goes through a rigorous selection process. The fermented juice is pot distilled. It’s then rested for six months to a year in stainless steel. But Avuá has a distinctly different flavor matrix at play. There are notes of caraway, brewer’s yeast, and lemon grass jumping from each glass. There’s a dry green grass essence underpinning the whole spirit that’s enticing and pulls you back in for more. This is one of the more unique tasting white cachaças out there and worth tracking down.
Sagatiba is interestingly close to tasting like a great white rum. The spirit takes five trips through the still to purify and refine the distillate into something special. It’s then rested in stainless steel to mellow out the rough sugar edges. There’s a distinct rush of refined sugarcane that’s not too sweet and not too alcohol forward, leading into an almost buttery caramel taste. Overall, this one has a balance of sweetness that works neat, on the rocks, or mixed into a perfect Caipirinha.
Leblon is an outlier. It’s fermented and distilled in Brazil. But then it’s moved to France where it’s rested in French Cognac barrels for between 30 days and three months. This short mellowing doesn’t impart any color, but it does give Leblon a distinct flavor profile. There’s a herbal rush to the spirit that gives way to wild flowers, citrus, vanilla, and hints of peppercorn on the end. This is the cachaça where tastes start moving from pure white distillate to fascinating aged wonders.
Magnífica Tradicional Cachaça 45%
Magnifica Tradicional is aged for 2 years in large casks made from the Brazilian tropical wood Ipê (also known as trumpet trees or Tabebuia). The wood imparts a flavor spectrum that’s like a green garden full of ripe vegetables at the end of summer. There are grassy notes that give way to savory fruits like pumpkins or squash with a slight hint of sugar cane sweetness, finishing the whole thing off nicely. It’s a great gateway into the world of rare wood aged cachaça.
Avuá Tapinhoã Cachaça
Tapinhoa is an extremely rare hardwood that’s really only used to age this one cachaça. Avuá is famous for being a completely green and no-waste distillery where every part of the sugar cane is used in the process of making their spirit. This shines through in the fascinating drink they’ve made here. It has a strong sense of lemon rinds, fresh mint, and a waft of seaside brine. That’s followed by notes of more citrus and fresh herbs aligning with a fruity sweetness, woody vanilla, and whispers of coconut.
Sagabita aged this one for 23 years in oak Cognac casks and is taking us into fine whiskey and dark rum territories, but in looks only. Roasted coconuts are at the forefront here. That’s embellished by a rush of vanilla and velvety honey with a sharp raisin sweetness and bitterness. It’s a fascinating drink that looks like it should be smokey and creamy but is more tropical and lush.
Novo Fogo Cachaça Tanager
Novo Fogo’s aging of Tanager in American oak and arariba (more commonly called zebrawood) gives the spirit a vivid red sheen. The cachaça drinks like a long winter’s day between Thanksgiving and Christmas with cinnamon, star anise, and cloves bouncing from the glass. Underneath all that spice is green grass and a bell pepper garden with echoes of tropical fruit forests. Sip it over an ice cube to let it shine and enjoy that burst of spice and sweet sugar cane delight.
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Stop 4 on the @usbgwa competition crawl! Now we are at @sitka.and.spruce to taste @amc8682's drink. This is, "Golllll!" 🥅⚽️. Made with Barrel Aged Novo Fogo Cachaça, Lustau Almacenista Oloroso "Pata de Gallina" sherry, Giffard Creme du Banane, Scrappy's Chocolate bitters, and house-made chocolate whey merengue.