Although it’s becoming less and less of a secret with every passing year, if you’re looking to shake up your usual cocktail routine, there’s no time like the present to get a hold of a bottle of Brazil’s national spirit: cachaça!
Cachaça is a point of pride in Brazilian culture and has a long history: It was banned by Portuguese colonial authorities on June 12, 1744, the date that today marks International Cachaça Day and also, not at all coincidentally, the day the World Cup started this year. The Brazilian distillate has recently been growing in popularity outside of Brazil, and, while it might be a little too soon to call it the next tequila, it’s worth tasting.
Cachaça 51 is one of Brazil’s most common cachaça brands and, like all cachaça, is distilled from fermented raw sugarcane juice. It’s important to note here that cachaça is not rum, which is distilled from sugarcane byproducts such as molasses. Like rum, cachaça can be aged or unaged and there are various levels of quality.
Cachaça is consumed to the tune of nearly 85 million cases a year with Brazilians accounting for most consumption — but that’s changing, and brands like Cachaça 51 can now be found at most liquor stores. (John’s and Waterfront Hy-Vee has 750-ml bottles of Cachaça 51 for $32.99.)
Color: Clear. There isn’t even a hint of color because Cachaça 51 is unaged.
Aroma: The smell of Cachaça 51 gives you the first indication of how unusual this spirit is — there are hints of molasses and sugar with earthy undertones.
Taste: Just because cachaça is made from sugarcane, doesn’t mean it is sweet. In fact, sugarcane is a grass and, when distilled, can range in taste from vegetal to sweet before aging. Cachaça 51 falls somewhere in the middle, being somewhat sweet but recalling its raw sugarcane origins. The overall mouthfeel of Cachaça 51 is smooth, but you quickly discover how rough it can be. The burn going down is a harsh reminder of why people add limes and sugar to make the caipirinha.
The Mixmaster: There’s only one choice when first embarking on cachaça cockatils: Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha. This is a wonderfully simple alternative to the margarita or daiquiri. How easy is it to make? Here’s the full recipe in a sentence: In a rocks glass or tumbler muddle half of a lime cut into wedges with a teaspoon of white sugar (more depending on how sweet you are looking for); add two ounces of cachaça; mix with ice; and drink.
Overall: You know that indie rock band that your hipster friends thought was so cool two years ago but can’t stand now because they’ve gone mainstream? That’s about where cachaça is now: It’s on the verge of becoming mainstream enough in the U.S. that you can enjoy it without anyone thinking you’re uber-trendy. Plus, it helps that it’s delicious. They say that variety is the spice of life, so what are you waiting for? Have a taste adventure with cachaça — you won’t regret it.