Have you discovered the beauty of cachaça yet? The Brazilian spirit is a lot like rum but it is not rum (and any cachaça fan will be sure to remind you of that). Instead of molasses, cachaça begins with the juices of pure sugar cane and the difference is noticeable.
Cachaça (pronounced kah-SHAH-sah) is taking over the liquor shelves across the world and is now the third best-selling spirit. In the United States alone, it has seen a 29 percent growth in recent years.
What's So Great About... Cachaça?
Cachaça is everything that we love about rum, yet there's something magical and exotic about it. The taste often begins sweet like rum and from there it can explode into a whole host of amazing flavors - from a chemical-oil in the more industrial brands to beautiful fruit and spices in artisan aged cachaças.
If cachaça is known for one cocktail, it is the Caipirinha, which is Brazil's national drink. This is a perfect introduction to the spirit and is 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 a little personal adaptation.
Explore the Top Cachaças Available in the U.S.
The amount of cachaça being produced in Brazil is astounding. In a 2016 conversation with Dragos Axinte, CEO of Novo Fogo Cachaça, he mentioned that there are over 50,000 cachaça distilleries in Brazil. Most of those are illegal, however, and he estimated that, at the time, there are about 3,000 legal brands.
Not all of those cachaça brands make it to the international market, but this is quickly changing as more drinkers discover the wonders of cachaça. The selection available in the U.S. is also growing and we 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 there! The world of cachaça is vast and it is a ton of fun to explore.
Grab a bottle of cachaça, mix up a Caipirinha and enjoy. Saude!
01 of 05
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 little treasure trove of premium cachaça.
Novo Fogo makes the standard silver cachaça and it is a pure delight in Caipirinhas and any fresh fruit cocktail. All of Novo Fogo's cachaça is certified organic and where the brand really shines is in their aged cachaças and they do love to experiment with the barrel.
- Chameleo...n cachaça 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 cachaça has notes of banana bread.
- Single Barrel is a new experience with every barrel.
And the summer of 2016 saw the release of Grandiosa, which is like drinking cherry custard and a personal favorite in the portfolio.
- 40-48% alcohol by volume (80-96 proof)
- Retail for $30-35/750 ml bottle (Single Barrel from $50-150)
- Produced in Morretes in the state of Paraná, Brazil
02 of 05
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.
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.
You may notice its taste change 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.
- 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.
- 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 and captivates the palate with toasted coconut and sweet caramel. It is set for release in the fall of 2016.
- Oak is more traditional, utilizing the oak barrels that have been used to age cachaça for many years. In this case, it is French oak and it gives this bottle of cachaça an inviting vanilla-butterscotch flavor with a hint of bitterness.
Avuá Cachaça is newer to the U.S. market, so availability remains a bit limited. If you find it: buy it, mix it, enjoy it.
- 40-42% alcohol by volume (80-84 proof)
- Retail for $30-70/750 ml bottle
- Produced a few hours north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
03 of 05
Luxury comes to life in Yaguara Cachaça and in this brand, we find the true 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 (aka Blended) is the brand's signature white cachaça. It combines organic cachaça rested for 10 months with a small amount of 5-6-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.
New...er to the market and released to the U.S. in the summer of 2016, two bottles have joined the success of Blended in Yaguara's portfolio.
- 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.
- 40.5-42% alcohol by volume (81-84 proof)
- Retail for $30-44/750 ml bottle
- Produced in the state of Paraná, Brazil
04 of 05
Leblon is often an introductory cachaça. It was for me as well and there are some great reasons why you should begin with this.
- It's widely available and can be found in most markets.
- 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 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 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, high-quality Limousin French oak and has delightfully sweet honey and caramel notes accented with nuts.
Continue to 5 of 5 below.
- 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)
- Retails for around $22/750 ml bottle
- Produced in Patos de Minas in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil
05 of 05
The sugar cane that becomes Sagatiba is grown in the farmlands of Minas Gerais, to the northeast of the distillery. It is another great introductory cachaça that will not break the bank and is readily available.
Sagatiba Pura is the signature cachaça from the brand. It is unaged, crystal clear and has the sweetest vanilla aroma. The bright taste is filled with banana and other fruits with a caramel-like surprise.
Sagatiba Velha (pronounced 'vel-ya') is the gold version of this luscious... spirit and is aged for a minimum of two years in American white oak barrels. It is everything we love about Pura, only smoother and with a refined twist. The banana becomes banana foster, the caramel more like butterscotch - it is fantastic.
The price of Sagatiba is hard to beat when it comes to the quality. And the Caipirinhas? Fantastic! In fact, either Sagatiba will mix well with almost anything you want to pair it with.
- 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)
- Retails for around $25-27/750ml bottle
- Produced in Patrocinio Paulista in the state of São Paulo, Brazil