You may know cachaça as the base of the Caipirinha, that effortlessly thirst-quenching Brazilian answer to the gin and tonic. But the distilled sugar cane spirit, frequently lumped in with rum, is beginning to come into own.
In fact, the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has just recently officially identified Cachaça as a distinctive Brazilian spirit. Granted, the ruling is a quid pro quo arrangement that ensures the Brazilian government will recognize bourbon and Tennessee whiskey as distinctive products of the United States, but it nevertheless is a victory for transparency and accuracy in labeling, which is all too often murky territory.
With cachaça poised for increased visibility, we're excited to share the most interesting bottles that have crossed our desk in a while.
Avuá Cachaça is born in the sun dappled fields of sugar cane on the master distiller's farm, several hours north of Rio de Janeiro. The cane is hand-harvested and crushed by a spring-fed waterwheel. The resulting juice is left to ferment under the influence of airborne wild yeast. After fermenting, it's distilled in a copper pot still, and then the two expressions go their separate ways. The Prata heads off to stainless steel tuns to rest for six months to a year, and the Amburana enters—you guessed it—Amburana wood casks to age for around two years. Both spirits are brought to proof with the same spring water that powers the crushing wheel. And what's that result of all that work? An exciting, unique spirit.
Avuá Cachaça Prata
The Prata (from the Portuguese "silver") pours clear and clean. Its scent is unlike any other cachaça I've ever tried. Where I usually find deep sweet banana aromas, Prata offers pungent vegetal greenness, lime, and only a hint of yeasty sweetness. The taste is also quite dry with notes of lemongrass, caraway, and cut grass. It finishes short and clean, with very little alcohol burn. Bottled at 84 proof, this not only makes a killer caipirinha, but also blows open the world of dry vermouth cocktails.
Avuá Cachaça Amburana
The two years spent in casks made of Amburana, a highly fragrant wood, substantially alters the flavor profile of the cachaça. Pouring a delicate barely-gold color, the 80 proof spirit smells like a fantastic rice pudding—cinnamon, honey, and a creamy, roasted sweetness. But don't let the dessert-like scent fool you: this spirit tastes surprisingly dry.
A pleasant woody flavor dominates, with spicy basil and allspice weighing in at the finish. My first taste was kind of a shock, but over the course of the glass the fluctuation of flavors won me over.
How should you use it? Swap it in for brown spirits; it will show nicely in drinks that lean more towards the barrel notes of whiskey, rather than the sweetness of bourbon. A sour is a good place to start: the result is intriguingly perfumed and spiced.
Releasing this month in the NYC area, and expanding to national distribution soon, both expressions are currently available online from Caskers while supplies last, at $35 for Prata and $50 for Amburana.
Are you a fan of cachaça? Got any favorite brands to recommend?
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Samples provided for review consideration.