Category Archives: Cachaca

Review: Novo Fogo Cachaca

novo fogo Barrel-Aged Bottle F#B9C101

Most cachaca is barely palatable if you don’t dump a ton of lime and sugar into it to make a caiparinha, but Novo Fogo is clearly focused on quality. Using organic ingredients, the distillery produces both a silver and a barrel-aged version of its spirits (the latter is really the best way to experience this unique sugar-based spirit from Brazil). There’s even an extra-aged version called Barrel 105 (not reviewed here), the likes of which I’ve never seen from cachaca.

Thoughts on the two main releases — and a nifty cocktail kit — follow.

Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Rested for one year in stainless steel before bottling. Tropical notes overlay the traditional fuel-focused cachaca nose, heavy on the pineapple, with a bit of lemon underneath. The body is more traditional, but balanced, with some lemon/lime fruit notes, mushroom, cedar box, and a finish of young alcohol notes. Nothing you’re likely to sip on straight, but totally worth pouring into a caipirinha. 80 proof. B+ / $33  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged Cachaca – Aged two years in ex-bourbon barrels before bottling. Banana and citrus are evident on the nose, which melds the fuel notes into something more approximating the aroma of coal. The body is quite a different animal, bringing toffee and peanut butter notes to play alongside milder orange character. The finish hints at those heavier alcoholic overtones, but some chocolate touches at the end. Much like a younger, agricole-style rum. 80 proof. A- / $37

Novo Fogo Antiquado Cocktail Kit – This tiny box includes a mini of Novo Fogo’s aged cachaca, a packet of Sue Bee Clover Honey, and a tiny vial of Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters. Mix ‘em all up and add ice and you’re done (sans the fancy garnishes on the picture). This is a great little cocktail (and one you can easily make sans the kit), the chocolate playing off the cachaca well, and the honey adding a much-needed sweetness, but of a different type. Can’t find it for sale, alas. It’d make a great stocking stuffer. A- / $NA

novofogo.com

Review: Avua Cachaca – Prata and Amburana

AvuaCachaca_AmburanaPrataIs the world ready for single-estate cachaca? Avua, made from single-estate sugarcane grown near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, is now available in two expressions, an unaged prata version, and an aged amburana cachaca matured for up to two years in casks made of local Amburana wood. While cachaca has a long (and largely deserved) reputation as a difficult spirit that’s often made on the cheap and for the cheap, Avua is trying to raise the bar. How well does it succeed? Thoughts, as always, follow.

Avua Cachaca Prata – Rested for six months in stainless steel tanks, but otherwise unaged. Classic cachaca character of rubber and fuel notes are tempered here. The nose is more vegetal than most cachacas, with a yeasty character that the company’s tasting notes describe, dead on, as “bready.” The body is also fairly characteristic of the spirit, with notes of lemongrass and lime zest balancing a lightly earthy, rubbery body. 84 proof. B+ / $35

Avua Cachaca Amburana  – Two years in cask have given this cachaca just the lightest touch of yellow gold color — and a brighter nose that offers some tropical pineapple character and clearer lemon notes. The body is considerably different, taking on a spicy creaminess that creates a kind of horchata character, complete with a cinnamon/clove dusting on top. The balance is a little off, winding into notes of licorice and flinty earth toward the back end, which is somewhat at odds with the earlier character. 80 proof. B+ / $50

avuacachaca.com.br

Review: Soul Cachaca

soul cachacaCachaca, the national spirit of Brazil, tends not to be the most nuanced of liquors, but Soul, made in Cruz do Espirito Santo, is one of the better renditions I’ve encountered of late.

Cachaca’s iconic aroma is typically that of gasoline, and while Soul’s got it too, it’s milder here than you usually encounter. It’s well balanced with strong lime and even a little chocolatey undertone, curious for an unaged cachaca.

The body is heavy on the citrus character, with very tart lime notes taking over where the nose leaves off. The texture is moderate — again, that acid keeps it from being too rounded — with a grassy character to it. The finish is quite acidic and mouth-puckering, which mutes and dampens the spirit’s funkier characteristics considerably. There’s rarely a whole lot to cachaca, but this is on the whole a quality product and a definite contender for a go-to spirit for a caipirinha.

B+ / $23 (one liter) / thecachaca.com

Review: Maison Leblon Reserva Especial

maison leblon reservaAged cachaca is a surprisingly rare thing, but mainstream producers are finally getting in on the game. Leblon, which makes the ubiquitous and eponymous silver cachaca, makes this fancy version by taking its pot-distilled cachaca and aging the spirit for up to two years in new Limousin oak casks. Formerly available only in Brazil, it’s now on sale in the U.S. in limited quantities.

I compared Maison Leblon to the only other aged cachaca I had on hand, Ypioca Ouro. There’s a lot of similarity here, though Leblon is considerably darker in color (the new oak will do that), a nutty brown next to the golden/lightly green Ypioca.

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Tasting Report: Ministry of Rum Festival 2011

Last year’s Ministry of Rum event was a tasty yet tiny look at the growing world of rum, and most of the same faces — with a few new ones — were back again in 2011. I focused on unfamiliar brands at this walk-around event… but made it a point to retry a few rums that I considered favorites — and which I didn’t like so much last time out. While most of my notes of the re-reviewed rums were consistent with 2010’s grades, a couple of marks were wildly different. Did recipes change… or was I not on my game last time out? Tasting events are always tricky, with opinions formed on the fly based on very limited (and spit-out) samples… so, as always, take all of these notes with a grain of salt. Or, as it were, sugar.

Ministry of Rum Festival – San Francisco Bay Area – 2011

Bacardi Solera 1893 Rum / B+ / much improved notes vs. last year, when I called this rum “rubbery”; still, not a lot to it; Mexico-produced

Diplomatico Blanco Rum / A- / a filtered Peurto Rican claro style; incredible smoothness and sweetness together; Venezuela

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum / A / remains a classic; made a fabulous Hotel Nacional Cocktail with Small Hand Pineapple Gomme

Smith & Cross Rum / B- / same rating as last year; huge body and tough as nails

The Scarlet Ibis Rum / B- / hard and rough; same notes as 2010

Brugal 1888 Gran Reserva / A- / just reviewed, tried another sip just for kicks

Zacapa Centenario 23 / A / remains a favorite, citrus and floral notes offering a lighter style rum despite its age; Guatemala

Zacapa XO Rum / A / incredible depth, another classic not to be missed; upgraded since last year’s A-

Crusoe Silver Rum / B+ / coconut finish; both this and the spiced rum are organic

Crusoe Spiced Rum / B+ / huge clove and allspice character

Flor de Caña 4 Year Old Gold / B / smoky and woody, typical of Flor de Cana

Flor de Caña Grand Reserve 7 Year Old / B+ / better balance, but still lots of wood

Flor de Caña Centenario 12 / B+ / improving but wood still holds tight

Flor de Caña Centenario 18 / A- / easily the top Flor, with the sweetness finally balancing out the wood notes

Coeur de Rhum La Favorite Rhum Agricole Blanc / C-

Coeur de Rhum La Favorite Rhum Agricole Ambrè / C / 18 months aged; still really rough (Martinique)

Coeur de Rhum La Favorite Rhum Agricole Vieux / C+ / significantly downgraded from last year; tougher than I’d remembered by a mile; 3 years old

Montanya Platino Rum / A / one of the most exceptional white rums (aged, then filtered) I’ve had lately — and it’s made in Colorado; a full review of Montanya’s rums is in the works

Montanya Oro Rum / A- / aged in Stranahan’s whiskey barrels, left ruddy orange; lots of nut, coffee, and almond character

Lemon Hart 151 Demerara Rum / A- / amazingly clean for 151; very dark, with coffee and cocoa notes

Novo Fogo Gold Cachaça / B+ / rare, an aged cachaca — this one smooths out that spirit’s typical fuel notes

Santa Teresa Claro / B+ / Aged 2 years, then filtered; big citrus notes; Venezuela

Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur / B+ / citrus + rum liqueur

Santa Teresa Gran Reserva / A- / aged two to five years; bracing sweetness, one of the sweetest of the day

Santa Teresa 1796 Antiguo de Solera / A- / I called this “perfect” last year; in 2011 I’m finding a bit whiskey-like, tons of wood drowning out the sugars

I Took the Cachaca Challenge

There is nothing more fun – or terrifying – than doing a blind head-to-head tasting of wine or spirits. What if everything you thought you knew was wrong? What if it turns out you like Gallo from a jug better than Screaming Eagle? (Answer: Well, then, you’re lucky. You’ll save a lot of money down the road.)

Recently I was given two vials of cachaca labeled A and B, some sugar, and a lime. My goal: Try the cachaca straight, then try it in a caipirinha, and report back to the agency putting on the event which I preferred.

I tasted them backwards…

Cachaca B was a clear, traditional cachaca, full of petrol notes but balanced with a little sweetness and citrus. Not much to it, a lot like a simple rum. (spot rating: B+)

Cachaca A was tinted light yellow, clearly one which had seen some barrel time. Much fruitier than A, it had lots of lemon oil and orange notes. Racy with aromatics, it was spice, flowers, and caramel/vanilla character from the time in wood. But still it was a cachaca at heart, as the petrol overtones made clear. Long, long finish here. (spot rating: A-, on the fence)

But what happened in a caipirinha? I made two cocktails identically, right down to the number of ice cubes, muddling lime and sugar, and adding the spirit and rocks.

Cachaca B made a very good caiprinha, pleasant and very much like a margarita. Clean and unfussy, it was easy to sip.

Cachaca A was overpowering: It stood up to the lime and sugar and made itself known, giving an astringency to the drink that was matched only by the floral and aromatic notes that followed. More complicated and intriguing, at first I preferred this one… until, five minutes later, I just couldn’t get that floral taste out of my mouth. While Cachaca B’s caipirinha finished clean, Cachaca A was too much, with a strong, almost salty aftertaste. I was reminded of my recent pisco tasting, where the stronger, mosto verde pisco was too much for a pisco sour to handle, and the simpler, acholado-style spirit turned out to work better in a mixed drink.

Just goes to show: Just because you like something on its own, doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way once you start adding stuff. (And vice versa!)

And now for the identities (revealed after I submitted my ratings)…. Cachaca B was Cabana (then: B+), and Cachaca A was Leblon (then: B+).

Review: Weber Haus Cachaca Silver

I don’t think it’s just me who pegs “Weber Haus” as a distinctly German name… and maybe an odd choice for a Brazilian cachaca… but no matter.

Weber Haus actually makes a wide variety of cachacas for the local and export markets, including aged and various, special bottlings. This silver cachaca, which has been sitting in my to-do list for far too long, is a solid one: Smooth and silky in mouthfeel, with a dusky, coal-flecked body.

It’s got a good slug of that traditional, gasoline/rubber character, but it’s still mellow, allowing just a touch of sweetness to come through in the end. Nice choice for a caipirinha.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / weberhausbrazil.com

weber haus cachaca

Review: Cuca Fresca Cachaca and Caipirinha

It’s been a while — too long, perhaps — since we sampled a new cachaca at Drinkhacker HQ, but Cuca Fresca has arrived to our watering palates.

Cuca Fresca Cachaca - This unaged Brazilian rum is intensely fragrant, filling the room with sweet lime notes. The body is more typical of cachaca, with that smoky character that all young cachaca tends to have, but it’s balanced by a good amount of sweetness and citrus. The finish is light and even refreshing, something I rarely say about cachaca. A great choice for starting your caipirinhas. 80 proof. A- / $18

Cuca Fresca Classic Caiprinha – Don’t want the trouble of mixing lime and sugar with your cachaca to make a caiprinha? Pour this pre-mixed version directly on the rocks. This 44-proof concoction claims only natural ingredients — cachaca, lime, and sugar (which settles on the bottom of the bottle — shake well!) — so I had awfully high hopes. It certainly doesn’t taste bad, but it’s a little heavy on the sweet and doesn’t have enough lime for my tastes. It’ll work in a pinch, but it’s unfortunately not really a substitute for the real deal. (When is it ever?) Note that the cork-topped bottle tends to leak when shaken. Cuidado! B / $18 per 1-liter bottle

cucafrescaspirit.com

Cuca Fresca Premium Cachaça

Recipe: Rio’s Celebratory Caipirinha

By now everyone knows that Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympics (sorry, Chi-town), and should you find yourself wishing to toast the city’s victory (any excuse for a cocktail…), you’ll likely pour yourself a caipirinha, the semi-official cocktail of all of Brazil.

lemon lime caipirinhaIf that’s too staid, Leblon offers this spin on the drink. Try it while thinking of the pole vault and the hammer throw.

The Lemon Lime and Blue Caipirinha

2 oz. Leblon Cachaca
3 Lime Wheels
3 Lemon Wheels
6 Blueberries
2 Teaspoons of Superfine Sugar (or 1 oz. Simple Syrup)

Cut lime into (3) 1/8″ wheels and cut lemon into (3) 1/8″ wheels and place into shaker. Add 2 teaspoons of superfine sugar, or 1 ounce of simple syrup. Gently muddle fruit in shaker for 10-15 seconds, extracting juice from lemon and lime wheels. Add Leblon Cachaca. Fill rocks glass to the top with crushed ice. Add 6 blueberries. Shake or stir, mixing blueberries, ice and lemon-lime fruit thoroughly. Garnish with Lemon, Lime, and Blueberry combination.

Review: Seagram’s Brazilian Rums

It looks like cachaca is continuing its rise, and now even mass market spiriters Seagram’s is getting into the mix.

Seagram’s (yeah, the gin guys!) new line of Brazilian rum doesn’t say cachaca on the label (and doesn’t offer a whole lot of information about what they’re created from or where, aside from “Brazil”), and that’s probably on purpose: At an ultra-affordable $12 a bottle, this is not intended to challenge the consumer with new and confusing terms but entice him into a new category of spirit while keeping a toe-hold on the familiar. “Brazilian” in the name gets that done.

Here’s how the rum — and its two flavored versions — stack up.

Seagram’s Smooth Brazilian Rum – Yeah, that’s the official name (snicker all you like), and compared to many cachacas it is on the mild, easygoing, even smooth side. The trademarks of cachaca — rubber, subdued sweetness — are here, but it’s all very mild. This is actually drinkable on its own — when’s the last time you said that about a $12 rum? — but of course it shines with simple mixers or in a caipirinha. Bonus points for such affordability. 80 proof. A- / $12

Seagram’s Citrus Brazilian Rum – Very sweet, with a kind of vague lemon/lime kick. Mostly natural-tasting (and specified as “with natural flavors” on the bottle), but it’s a little overpowering, to be honest, but with the right mixer — try club soda — it can work. Go easy on added sweetener. 70 proof. B+ / $12

Seagram’s Raspberry Brazilian Rum – You can’t get away from raspberry these days, and here (also a “natural” per the label  it’s just too much for me. Even with a mixer, the raspberry flavor is on the cloying side, though it doesn’t taste artificial, just too, too sweet. 70 proof. B / $12

seagramsginlive.com

seagrams-brazilian-rum

Review: Boca Loca Cachaca

Boca Loca is another good cachaca to recently hit the market — and with its lipstick-scrawled-on-glass packaging it immediately presents itself as an uncomplicated product designed for the masses.

I expect any drinker would have an easy time approaching this cachaca, which tastes and smells not of the spirit’s typical gasoline but rather of charred wood and a touch of caramel. The sugary sweetness is strong in this one, ending on a somewhat bitter note that makes this one of the more curious cachacas to come along in recent months.

At 80 proof it makes a fine caipirinha, though lime and sugar sap it of its unique characteristics, leaving behind just a hint of that caramel character and a lot of sweet sugar. Try it in less fruit-forward concoctions and see what you think.

B / $20 / drinkbocaloca.com

boca-loca-cachaca

Review: Sagatiba Pura Cachaça

“Fusing more than 500 years of tradition with advanced technology” brings us Sagatiba Pura cachaça, another big entrant into the rapidly proliferating cachaça craze.

Sagatiba is a largely representative example of the spirit, 80 proof, fairly clean and noticeably sweet when sipped straight. There is citrus — lemon/lime and a bit of orange — on the tongue in a shot, but things are far improved with sugar and lime, the way cachaça is meant to be consumed.

Strange, though, that both on its own and in a caipirinha, I got a moderately strong sour character from Sagatiba, something I don’t think I’ve seen in other cachaças. Yes, I’m immensely grateful not to get that gasoline/petrol flavor from Sagatiba — you’ll find that a common problem of the cheaper cachaças, but the sourness kept this spirit at a distance, as it just didn’t meld together as well as it should have in mixed drinks.

That’s not to say that some drinks couldn’t actually benefit from a little sour character, but in the standbies for cachaçait was a bit strong.

B+ / $25 / sagatiba.com

Recipe: Leblon-Lychee Popsicle

I haven’t tried this yet, but it does sound awfully good. Recipe courtesy Leblon.

Leblon-Lychee Popsicle
1 1/2 oz. Leblon Cachaça
4 oz. Coconut water with the pieces of young coconut meat
1 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. Boiron Lychee Puree

Add all ingredients into a shaker tin. Pour contents of shaker into your favorite popsicle mold (you can also add pomegranate seeds for a colorful effect). Put in the freezer for three to four hours.

Review: Leblon Cachaça

Leblon was the first cachaça I ever tried and it remains a perfectly acceptable introduction to the beauty of the spirit. The company was kind enough to send a fresh bottle, and it remains as charming a cachaça as ever.

You won’t miss that gigantic green bottle on the shelf (it barely fits in my liquor cabinet), and opening it up reveals fresh aromas of sugar and lime. There’s the slightest tinge of cachaça’s trademark rubber flavor in the mid-palate, but it’s surprisingly not offensive. If you’re looking for textbook cachaça, Leblon is as close as I’ve come to finding something that exhibits the highlights and the curiosities about this intriguing sugar cane spirit.

Leblon is, of course, best in a caipirinha (and its variations) but is palatable straight: You’re a fool not to mix it with sugar (one recipe on the Leblon website calls for a whopping six sugar cubes (Crescent City Green Dawn)), but here at Drinkhacker, you’ll find that we rarely judge you for your drink.

B+ / $27 / liveloveleblon.com

Review: Água Luca Cachaça

Cachaça continues its run for the It Spirit of the ’00s. Here’s another contestant: Água Luca, an otherwise standard cachaça with the distinction of being filtered twelve times en route to the bottle.

Maybe that filtering robs Água Luca of some of its character? Água Luca has a very typical cachaça profile, with a strong industrial, alcoholic edge that’s cut with the sweetness of sugar cane and a nod at citrus notes.

Straight, Água Luca wasn’t a hit. I found it too plain. In a caipirinha, Água Luca shined brightly. It’s a natural with lime and sugar, though even at 40 proof it comes on strong. Looking to pack a punch in your cocktail while using less liquor? Maybe Água Luca’s your man.

B- / $31 / agualuca.com

Review: Cabana Cachaça

If you haven’t seen Cabana’s advertisements in the glossies, you haven’t been looking hard enough. You really can’t miss them, what with the woman’s lower torso and the tagline “Authentically Brazilian.” (As a side note, this has caused some tongues to wag, as the spirit is brought to us by an American liquor magnate.)

Politics aside, let’s look at the spirit on its own merits. As cachaça goes, Cabana is very clean, much more like rum than many other cachaças and lacking any harshness, typical of the spirit. In fact, it may be the most neutral cachaça I’ve ever tried, which has both good and bad elements to it. It’s not flavorless mind you: A light lemon flavor and nose are pretty evident, but otherwise Cabana comes across a lot like a good white rum.

It’s not really a spirit for drinking straight, but it shines in caipirinhas and other lemon-and-sugar-type cocktails. (I tossed some Damiana and 7-Up into a caipirinha made with Cabana and it was an exceptional little drink.)

Say what you will about the marketing, but Cabana’s a keeper.

B+ / $33 / cabanacachaca.com (warning: some nudity)

Review: Ypióca Empalhada Prata & Ouro Cachaça

After my recent review of Beija cachaça, the good souls at challenger Ypióca (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) sent a volley across my bow, obliquely throwing down a little smack by claiming “every day there seems a new U.S.-made designer brand… wanting to be the next Grey Goose of the category.”

Them’s fighting words, and I agreed to take a taste of two of Ypióca’s cachaças, which the company claims are all aged a minimum of one to six years and are so popular that they’re the largest premium cachaça producer in the world. After 160 years in business, that might be expected.

So does large equal good? I put the stuff to the test.

At first glance you won’t be able to tell the difference between Ypióca Empalhada Plato and Ouro. Both bottles come wrapped in wicker shells, Chianti-style, and it’s difficult to tell by the labels which is which. Both are even listed at an odd 78 proof. But, if you’re up on your Portuguese you’ll know that Prata (silver) and Ouro (gold) might imply some aging differences, a la tequila. But it turns out both are aged for two years, Plato is aged two years in Brazilian balsam wood casks, while Ouro is aged in Freijo wood casks, a tree from the north east part of Brazil. The difference a wood makes is noticeable: The Prata has a crisp and clean cachaça character (sweet and spicy, with none of that gasoline flavor), while the Ouro has a funkier, woodsy tone that’s impregnated with smoke. If you’ve sampled silver vs. reposado tequilas side by side, you’ll have a similar impression when putting these two cachaças against each other. (The company makes at least five other cachaças, none of which I have tried, but wouldn’t hesitate to do so if I saw them available.)

Both did well in caipirinhas and sparkling caipirinhas, but preference was a matter of taste. Both are excellent. Grab ‘em if you see them and don’t have to try to order them out loud.

Both are about $25, but the Prata can be much harder to find (and thus may be more expensive; shop around).

Both: A / ypioca.com.br

ypioca cachaca ouro  ypioca cachaca prata

Original Recipe: Sparkling Caipirinha

As discussed here, I promised my recipe for the Sparkling Caipirinha, a lighter way to sip cachaça, a Brazilian sugar cane rum. This cocktail offers the spirit of the Caipirinha but is easier to sip; more like a Mojito than a Martini.

The Sparkling Caipirinha
1/2 a lime, cut into four pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
2 oz. cachaça
7-Up

In a rocks glass muddle the lime with the sugar (use only 3 pieces of the lime if you prefer). Add the cachaça and fill with ice. Top up with 7-Up.

Delicious!

Review: Beija Cachaça Virgin Cane Rum

Eric Felten wrote recently that cachaça is taking the world by storm, like it or not. The unofficial national spirit of Brazil, cachaça is used to make Brazil’s official national cocktail, the Caipirinha. Brazil produces over a billion liters of the stuff each year, and only 1% of it ever leaves the country. Brazilians, they love their cachaça.

Cachaça (roughly pronounced ka-SHAH-zuh) is essentially fermented sugar cane juice. It’s similar to rum, except rum is aged in oak and can be made from molasses. But cachaça has a significantly different flavor, a stronger, sharper tone that many compare unfavorably to gasoline. I’m hard-pressed to argue with that. Drinking cachaça straight, no matter who makes it, is nearly impossible.

Better to give the Caipirinha a spin instead. The Caipirinha (roughly pronounced kai-pah-REEN-yah) is just cachaça muddled with lime and sugar, topped up with ice. It’s a stout drink, but the lime and sugar complement the cachaça well. (Lesser drinkers may try the Sparkling Caipirinha instead, recipe here, which many like even better.)

All of which brings us to Beija’s cachaça, a new entry into the cachaça market and, so they claim, the “world’s first virgin cane rum.” (Virgin means it is distilled from the first pressing of sugar cane only, much like virgin olive oil.)

Few spirits have been consumed as rapidly at Drinkhacker HQ as Beija (pronounced BAY-zha) has. I think Beija is pretty good, too: It has little of the firewater tone of most cachaças, and in cocktails it is sweet and smooth, with a lightly floral note instead of a lighter fluid one. It’s distinctive without being overpowering. Tastes a little like candy. (I compared it side by side with Leblon cachaça and there was no comparison that Beija was far superior.)

Would I rather drink a premium rum than cachaça? Probably, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, Beija is as good as it gets. Watch for it on store shelves in the near future.

A- / $30 / beija.net

beija cachaca