Have you discovered the beauty of cachaça yet? The Brazilian spirit is a lot like rum but it is not rum (any cachaça fan will be sure to remind you of that) because it begins with pure sugar cane rather than molasses, and the difference is noticeable.
Cachaça (pronounced kah-SHAH-sah) is taking over liquor shelves across the world. It is everything that's great about rum, yet there's something magical and exotic about it. The taste often begins with a rum sweetness, and from there it can explode into a whole host of amazing flavors—from a chemical-oil in the more industrial brands to beautiful fruits and spices in artisan aged cachaças.
If cachaça is known for one cocktail, it is the caipirinha (Brazil's national drink). It's a perfect introduction to the spirit and unbelievably simple—lime, sugar, cachaça. The caipirinha is to cachaça what the mint julep is to bourbon: you can use it to explore and compare brands and it's the perfect recipe for personal adaptations.
Top Cachaças Available in the U.S.
The amount of cachaça produced in Brazil is astounding. Dragos Axinte, CEO of Novo Fogo Cachaça, notes that there are over 50,000 cachaça distilleries in Brazil. Most are illegal, however, and he estimated that (in 2016) there were about 3,000 legal brands.
Not all of those cachaças make it to the international market. This is quickly changing as more drinkers discover the spirit. The selection available in the U.S. is also growing and you can enjoy some of the best cachaças being distilled today.
Here are a few of the hottest brands that you'll want to check out, but don't stop here! The world of cachaça is vast and it is a ton of fun to explore. Grab a bottle, mix up a caipirinha, and enjoy. Saude!
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Novo Fogo Cachaça
Cachaça fans who have not given Novo Fogo a taste are missing out on an experience. When you find it, pick up two or three different bottles if they're available as each is a treasure trove of premium cachaça.
Novo Fogo makes the standard silver cachaça and it is a delight in caipirinhas and any fresh fruit cocktail. Where the brand really shines is in their aged cachaças because they experiment with different types of wood barrels:
- Chameleon takes some of the funk out of the Silver, adding just a touch of oak.
- Tanager is aged in both American oak and zebrawood and has some wonderful fruit notes.
- Barrel-Aged has notes of banana bread.
- Grandiosa is like drinking cherry custard, using American oak and Brazil nut barrels.
- Colibri pairs American oak and Brazillian teak for vanilla-toffee and cinnamon-chestnut deliciousness.
- Single Barrel is a new experience with every barrel.
Novo Fogo Cachaças are certified organic and produced in Morretes in the state of Paraná, Brazil. They're bottled between 40 percent and 48 percent alcohol by volume (80 to 96 proof). Reasonably priced, you can find most for around $30 while the Single Barrel expressions range from $50 to $150.
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Avuá (pronounced av-wah) is a fine, hand-crafted cachaça that hails from the area just outside of Rio. The sugar cane is sourced from a third generation farm and the cachaça is made in a pot still. It's another brand that plays with barrel aging, many resting in native Brazillian woods to impart distinct flavors.
- Prata is an unaged cachaça that has lush floral notes. It is 84 proof, so it is one of the boldest silver cachaças you will find, which makes it ideal for any cocktail. There is also Still Strength, bottled at 90 proof.
- Amburana gets its name and finishing flavor from the indigenous Amburana wood. It is warm and inviting with a delightful mix of cherry and caraway.
- Tapinhoã is aged in another rare wood of the same name. It captivates the palate with toasted coconut and sweet caramel.
- Jequitibá Rosa uses that hardwood for aging, giving the cachaça a delicate fruit flavor with a hint of bitterness.
- Bálamo is a dense hardwood with a burgundy color that gives the cachaça by the same name a herbal, mineral taste kissed with citrus.
- Oak is more traditional, utilizing the French oak barrels that have been used to age cachaça for many years. It gives this cachaça an inviting vanilla-butterscotch flavor with a hint of bitterness.
Similar to the vintages often noted in wine, you may notice a change in taste in these cachaças from year to year. This is due to the subtle differences in the growing seasons as each numbered batch reflects a year's harvest of the cane.
This is another fine example of Brazilian tradition and Avuá is one of the shining lights in the vast spectrum that is cachaça. This brand is quickly getting the recognition it deserves and typically sells in the $30 range.
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Luxury comes to life in Yaguara Cachaça, a brand focused on the art of blending. Each of their three cachaças draws on a century of tradition within the Meneghel family and the result is spectacular.
- Yaguara Blue is the brand's signature white cachaça. It combines organic cachaça rested for 10 months with a small amount of 5- to 6-year-old oak-aged cachaça. This gives it a faint yellow color and the taste is a wonder of sweet, soft herbs and grass with hints of pepper.
- Branca is also blended in the family tradition, yet it is a traditional, 100% white cachaça that is not aged. This raw cachaça will stand up to any mixed drink and makes a fantastic caipirinha.
- Ouro takes the opposite route and is a blend of cachaça aged in two native woods—Cabreúva and Amburana—along with American oak. It is a flavorful spirit with notes of chocolate and coffee and can be enjoyed neat or mixed.
Yaguara also has one of the most stunning bottles in the cachaça market. Inspired by the flowing geometry of Rio's Copacabana boardwalk, U.K. glass artist Brian Clarke designed a bottle that gets noticed while retaining the bartender-approved easy pour.
Produced in the state of Paraná, Brazil, these cachaças are bottled between 40.5 percent and 42 percent ABV (51 to 84 proof). You can expect to pay $30 to $40 a bottle.
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Leblon is often an introductory cachaça. There are some great reasons why you should begin with this bottle:
- It's widely available and can be found in most markets at around $20.
- It's a great example of clean, crisp, lightly rested cachaça.
- It's difficult to find a cocktail in which it doesn't work.
Leblon takes a unique trip before it is bottled. After the sugar cane is distilled in Patos de Minas in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, the spirit travels to France. There, it receives some of that fine finishing that only the French countryside and old Cognac casks can provide. It's bottled at 40 percent ABV (80 proof).
This is an approachable cachaça, with light fruity notes leading the way. There are some spicy notes to contrast the sweetness and it all balances out.
Leblon also produces an aged cachaça, Reserva Especial. It spends up to two years in brand new Limousin French oak and has delightfully sweet honey and caramel notes accented with nuts.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Ypióca is another great introductory cachaça that will not break the bank and it's readily available. Founded in 1843, this is a cachaça with a lot of history behind it, claiming to be the oldest cachaça brand still going.
The distillery in Fortaleza, Brazil has its own sugar plantations and an environmentally-sustainable focus in its use of the land. It even ships the bottles in cardboard recycled from the sugar cane it uses.
These may not be the smoothest cachaças you'll find, as they do have a distinct burn. While you may not want to sip them straight, you'll enjoy them in cocktails like the raspberry caipirinha. And, at under $20 a bottle, you can't beat the price of what Dale DeGroff has called an "old-world artisanal-style cachaça."
- Prata Classica is the silver offering, though it spends a year in friejó vats.
- Prata Reserva Especial is soft gold, with an additional year in friejó wood.
- Ouro is golden colored and aged for two years in balsam wood.