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!