Cachaça (pronounced kah-SHAH-sah) is a distilled spirit from Brazil that is often thought of as a style of rum. The difference is that cachaça is made from sugar cane juice rather than the molasses that is typically used to produce rum.
The majority of cachaça is 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). Yet, just like other distilled spirits, some producers choose to bottle their specialty cachaças at a higher proof. As is the case with whiskey, this means you're getting a liquor with a fuller flavor.
The flavor of cachaça can vary greatly though it often has a subtle sweetness (much less than rum). Many of the more industrial brands can have a chemical alcohol taste. Yet, some of the top shelf brands will have delicious notes of fruits and sweets.
Just like any other distiller, those who make cachaça can experiment with the sugar cane, distillation process, and barrel aging to bring out particular flavor nuances in the spirit.
Cachaça is Brazil's National Spirit
Cachaça is made exclusively in Brazil and is the national spirit of the South American country. It has long been known as a poor man's drink though this is quickly changing and some brilliant artisanal cachaças are being produced today.
Not every bottle of cachaça is available internationally, though imports to the U.S. are increasing every year. As of 2016, there are over 3,000 legal cachaça distilleries in Brazil. There are also many home stills making cachaça that are, shall we say, less than legal. You could call these the 'moonshiners' of Brazil if you like.
In recent years, cachaça has gained recognition internationally, with much of the credit going to the increased popularity of the Caipirinha. This cocktail is not only the most popular drink made with cachaca but is Brazil's national drink as well:
- September 13 is National Cachaça Day.
- June 12 has been designated as International Cachaça Day.
- May 21 marks a regional cachaça celebration within the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
Your First Cachaca Cocktails
The first drink that you need to make with every new bottle of cachaça is the famous Caipirinha. It is to cachaça what the Old-Fashioned is to bourbon and it's made the same way. It is, quite simply, muddled sugar and lime topped with cachaça and served over ice. It is a very fun recipe to play around with and you can muddle any fresh seasonal fruit into it to add a unique twist.
The Batida is another cocktail that is popular in Brazil and it is quite fascinating. This drink can take on many different flavors and is a delicious mix of cachaça, fruit, milk, and sugar. It is delicious no matter how it's made and should definitely be on every cachaça drinker's list.
Cachaça Deserves a Place in Any Bar
Cachaça is quickly finding a home in the modern bar and we are seeing it in some fantastic new cocktails. It is an extremely versatile liquor that pairs well with common and exotic flavors and it can be used in many rum cocktails as well.
A cocktail like the Melancia Sour pairs cachaça with lemongrass and watermelon while the Paulista opts for lavender and blueberry. The Rhyme & Reason mixes cachaça with Aperol and cinnamon for a delightful dinner drink. You can also remake favorite cocktails with cachaça as we see in the simple and fun Raspberry Bellini.
Go ahead, keep a bottle of cachaça in your bar and explore new brands as you come across them. One taste of a great cachaça and you'll see why it's a new favorite for many bartenders.