Review: Avua Cachaca Tapinhoa

Brazil’s Avua is back with another single-estate cachaca, this one a very rare edition called Tapinhoa. Tapinhoa is a dense hardwood found in Brazil, and Tapinhoa is aged for up to two years in a large cask made from this wood. (The Tapinhoã large vertical barrel was initially used by the distiller’s father on the family farm decades ago and after a lengthy recommissioning process and up to two years of aging, Avuá Cachaça restored it in 2013.)

Cachaca fanatics may want to compare the spirit to Avua Amburana, which is aged in barrels made from a different Brazilian wood.

As a reminder, “Avuá Cachaça is organically produced with only renewable energy, with water piped from a natural source to grind the sugarcane, and a boiler for the still that is fired by the residuals of the sugarcane pulp, known as bagasse. The cane, composed of three specifically chosen varietals, is hand-cut, ground with a waterwheel, and fermented for less than 24 hours using airborne wild yeasts, before being distilled in a copper-crafted alembic still.”

Let’s get on to tasting.

The color is the palest of yellow, a clear sign about how hard the Tapinhoa wood is and how little of the spirit is able to penetrate the wood even after two years. The nose has the light petrol character that’s typical of cachaca, but it’s filtered through fresh notes of lemon, mint, and some salty brine. On the tongue, similar notes dominate, with the sharp citrus and herbs quickly segueing to gentle vanilla, coconut, and some curious impression of wood — though not the typical oak — notes. The finish is lightly vegetal with some notes of green beans and steamed broccoli. Late in the game, petrol notes bubble back up — essentially impossible to avoid in any cachaca.

All told it’s a unique entry into the curious world of aged cachaca with a neat story behind it, though its flavor profile is not so unusual as to blow one’s mind.

80 proof. 600 bottles released.

B+ / $73 / avuacachaca.com.br

Review: Cachaca 51

Cachaca-51Cachaca 51 is the best-selling brand of cachaca in Brazil, the home of this unique sugarcane-based spirit. That may not sound like a big deal, but according to the producer, they sell 240 million liters of the stuff annually, which makes it the second-biggest-selling spirits brand in the world. (Independent research does not seem to bear this out, but that’s largely irrelevant to our cause here — which is how it actually tastes.)

Cachaca 51 has the traditional fuel-like pungency of cachaca up front, but it’s folded in with some interesting notes of lime zest and lemongrass, tempering the petrol overtones considerably. The body is a bit sweeter than most cachacas, offering notes of light brown sugar, spearmint, and more citrus fruits — lime, especially — on the back end.

The palate is on the thin side and the finish is a bit saccharine, but mixed into a caipirinha or, well, anything else, that might actually work to its advantage.

80 proof.

B+ / $17 (1 liter) / geminispiritswine.com

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 caipirinha, 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.

Continue reading

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

-->