Most of us in North America were introduced to cachaça by way of a cocktail called the caipirinha. It's the national drink of Brazil and is made by muddling lime quarters and sugar in the bottom of a rocks glass. Ice is added and then the cachaça. It's hard to imagine starting a rodizio meal without the potent tart and sweet drink.
Brazil is the world's largest producer of sugar cane and Cachaça is made from the juice. The United States, though, gets very few exports of the resulting spirit. In fact, it wasn't until April 11, 2013, that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau recognized Cachaça as a type of rum and a distinctive product of Brazil.
The most common brand seen in bars and on liquor store shelves is Cachaça 51. The clear bottle and yellow, black and red label is quite recognizable. It is, however, considered an industrially-produced spirit. It has little nose or distinguishing characteristics, but when you're going to mix it with a bunch of fragrant, muddled limes, no one notices.
Imbibers in the United States have been missing out on everything that makes Cachaça interesting. Much like mezcal or tequila in Mexico, there are many cachaças produced by small and family-owned distilleries in Brazil. Saved from the rigors of high-volume production techniques, these retain characteristics of the soil and wild yeast in the area.
Nate Whitehouse, formerly a biochemist, made it his mission to bring some of these to the United States. The brand he's established is called Avuá. His first eye-opening experience was in New York in a green and yellow shack under a bridge. "There was dancing, live Samba music, grilled meats and, of course, cachaça," he says. It started a fascination with the spirit that hasn't stopped.
He started traveling to Brazil and amassed a collection of rare and interesting cachaças. In time, he started finding families producing it who were interested in the opportunity to brand and export their products.
There are two different types of Avua available for purchase right now: the Prata and the Amburana. The sugar cane for the Prata is processed by a grinder powered by a water wheel. The resulting juice ferments for 24 hours and is pot-distilled. Prata has a nose reminiscent of Irish soda bread. It's light, fragrant and definitely not something you want to kill with a ton of limes. Whitehouse says it's perfect for cocktails that allow it to shine, like Ti Punch and daquiris.
Amburana is named for the wood it's aged in, which is native only to Brazil. Because it's aged for one year and nine months, it takes longer to produce. The wood imparts malty characteristics that lead to a nose of mulling spices and vanilla.
Houstonians can find the Avuá cachaças at Pax Americana, Down House and Anvil Bar & Refuge. Those who wish to take Avuá home can find it at Houston Wine Merchant. The Prata retails for $38.99 while the Amburana sells for $47.99. A third type called "Oak" is under development and will be available later this year.
In the meantime, you can try these cocktail recipes with Prata and Amburana at home.
Prata Paloma created by Justin Noel- Bleecker Kitchen & Co
In this case, cachaça takes the place of blanco tequila.
2 oz Avuá Cachaça Prata .5oz lime juice 2 oz pink grapefruit juice
Top with soda. Garnish with a lime wedge or slice
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Pan Am created by bartender Cervantes Ramirez, Little Branch, New York
This cocktail is a variation on the El Presidente cocktail. Avua Cachaça is substituted for white rum and the grenadine is excluded.
2 oz Avua Amburana 1 oz dry curaçao 1 oz dry vermouth
Stir with ice and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.