Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Rise of Cachaça

Cachaça, the national spirit of Brazil, is one of the fastest growing spirit trends in the US, and one of the most widely consumed spirits in the world. Since cachaça is created from sugarcane, it is often considered a rum, but the key difference between the two is the way the base ingredient is processed. Unlike rum, which is traditionally distilled from molasses, cachaça can only be distilled from fresh-pressed, unprocessed sugarcane juice, which lends a subtle sweetness and a distinctive vegetal note to the finished product. To futher the distinction, Brazilian lawmakers signed a decree that established cachaça as the official and exclusive name for Brazilian cane alcohol, which they hope will eventually be recognized worldwide.

Although the exact origins of cachaça are unknown, historians date the initial creation between 1532 and 1550 - predating the creation of rum by more than one hundred years. Portuguese colonists began cultivating sugarcane soon after Pedro Alvarez Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500, and by 1532 the first sugar mills had opened along the Sao Paulo coast. It is believed that the slaves who worked in these mills discovered fermented liquid in the area where the sugarcane was crushed, and began drinking it. Eventually this fermented sugarcane juice met with the distillation techniques of the Portuguese, and cachaça was born.

To create cachaça, harvested sugarcane is washed and pressed through large metal rollers to extract the juice. The juice is then filtered into fermentation tanks, where the producer may add a leavening agent such as corn meal or rice bran to produce a higher alcohol content, as well as influence the aroma and flavor of the finished product. The sugarcane juice is fermented from one to three days, depending on the ambient temperature, then distilled at a steady temperature of 90º Celsius, or 194º Fahrenheit. The first distillation batch, known as cabeceira, is very strong and often used to make liqueurs, since the alcohol volume is too high to be considered a traditional cachaça. The second batch, which is usually around 18% alcohol by volume, is called cachaça boa, and is sent on to be bottled or aged. The cachaça that is not bottled immediately is aged for at least one year in barrels made from Brazilian amburana, cedar, freijó, garapa, balsa, vinhático, jequitibá or other woods. Some producers use European and American oak barrels as well.

Over time, cachaça has become an important part of Brazilian culture, and is usually enjoyed straight or in a Caipirinha, the country's national cocktail. Made with muddled lime and sugar, the Caipirinha is now becoming a standard cocktail on menus across the country, along with other cachaça concoctions. There are currently over 5,000 industrial and artisinal cachaça brands available in Brazil, but only a handful have made their way into the US. Three brands that are popular among bartenders and mixologists are Pitu, Leblon and Mae de Ouro, all of which have proven themselves in a traditional Caipirinha, as well as other excellent cocktails. Try the delicious Amazonia Caipirinha - an interesting interpretation of the classic!

Amazonia Caipirinha

2 oz Leblon Cachaça
½ oz. St. Germain Elderflower cordial
2 oz. white cranberry juice
¼ oz. fresh lime juice
4 basil leaves
Sparkling wine

Build all ingredients except the sparkling wine into a shaker. Add ice, shake and strain over ice into a highball glass. Splash with sparkling wine and stir.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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