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Cachaça: The tropical, exotic and oft-misunderstood spirit of Brazil

Posted on  | April 23, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Cachaça can be confusing, and not just because of its tricky name (it’s pronounced ka-sha-sa, from the Portuguese, by the way). The beloved spirit of Brazil, it was long lumped in with another tropical spirit; and it is often narrowly identified with its most famous cocktail.

But Cachaça is its own deal—actually the oldest of all sugarcane-based spirits, first distilled in 1532—and since 2013 has been recognized by the TTB as a distinctive product of Brazil. That should help the notion of it being “Brazilian rum” fade quickly. Here is some more background and experts’ insight to help American bartenders pull Cachaça beyond the Caipirinha. 

Cachaça is NOT Rum

Both are distilled spirits based on sugar, but whereas rum is made from molasses, Cachaça is made starting with raw sugar cane juice. Rhum Agricole is another Caribbean spirit also made with sugarcane juice, but Rhum Agricole can be distilled up to 70% ABV in the bottle while the limit for Cachaça is 48% ABV. Most Cachaça is bottled between 34% and 48% ABV.

What It’s Like

Cachaça can be quite complex, with a variety of herbal, vegetal and savory characteristics. Familiar aromas include celery, dill, fennel, pepper, clove and mint, most of which come as a result of the barrels used for aging. Even white Cachaças, which are unaged, spend a small amount of time “resting” in barrels. Barrel treatments are traditional and very important to flavor development in the liquid, as Cachaça can be aged in 20 to 35 different types of wood indigenous to Brazil.

How It’s Enjoyed

In Brazil, where meat is hugely popular, a shot of cachaça is ideal for both before and after a big meal. However, Cachaça being a part of the actual meal has become a trend in Brazil over the last few years. “We do pairings with all types of food and twists on classic drinks. People are very open to finding new ways to play with the drink and food,” says Jan Campoy, General Manager of Yaguara in the U.S. Outside of Brazil, Germany is the largest consumer, followed by the United States.


Cachaça is typically mixed, as most Americans likely associate it with the Caipirinha, aka Brazil’s national cocktail, made with sugar and lime. Travis St. Germain, Brooklyn-based mixologist and brand consultant for Yaguara, notes that Cachaça is also the foundation of the Rabo de Galo in Brazil, similar to a Manhattan. It is made with Cachaça, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters. The Tabelinha, which means “one and one,” consisting of a shot of beer and a shot of Cachaça, is also popular.



Scale Matters

As with many spirits, production methods have great impact on character. “Industrial cachaça is made at an industrial scale, using continuous distillation and production methods which emphasize yield and lowest cost,” says Steve Luttman, founder of Leblon Cachaça. “Artisanal cachaça uses copper alambique pot stills, similar to the pot stills used in Cognac for eau-de-vie, and is made via batch to emphasize taste and quality at a higher cost.”

Brazilian Mojito

1½ oz Sagatiba Pura

1 Tbsp Superfine Sugar

3 Lime wedges

4 Sprigs of Fresh Mint

Club Soda

Muddle mint leaves, superfine sugar and lime in a mixing glass. Add Sagatiba Cachaça and ice in a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a sprig of mint. Simple syrup can be used to replace superfine sugar.


Blood Orange Caipirinha


2 oz Leblon Cachaça

2 oz Blood Orange Juice

¼ Lime, cut into wedges

1 tsp Superfine Sugar or ½ oz Simple Syrup

Muddle the lime and sugar in a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice. Add Leblon Cachaça and the blood orange juice. Shake vigorously. Serve in a rocks glass, and garnish with an orange twist.


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