News & Reviews » Reviews

“Beyond the Caipirinha”

By Nancy Davidson
(excerpt from full article in Beverage Magazine)

The cocktail that made cachaça famous still drives sales of the Brazilian sugarcane-based spirit, but mainstream consumers are beginning to branch out with other cocktails incorporating a diversity of styles.

For consumers who had never heard of cachaça (Brazilian sugarcane-based ‘rum’), the caipirinha (muddled lime and sugar mixed with cachaça over ice) was an introduction to the spirit of Brazil; an introduction to both the traditional sugarcane-based spirit that is the number three top selling spirit worldwide, as well as to the partying, samba-dancing, fun-loving spirit and culture of the largest and most populous South American country.

In 2007 cachaça was poised for a meteoric rise. Brazil’s favorite cocktail became prominent on the U.S. bar scene with a flurry of new brands with aggressive marketing that highlighted the Brazilian
lifestyle. Would cachaça be the next category to give vodka, gin, Tequila and molasses-based rums a run for their money? Would it become as popular in the U.S. as it is in Brazil? The answer is not quite yet.

While the category has continued to grow at a steady pace, cachaça and the caipirinha have not completely penetrated the mainstream consciousness, according to Paul Tanguay, spirits consultant, Tippling Brothers. “It is still one of the relatively unknown spirits in this country, with the likes of pisco and shochu,” he says. “However, we have made incredible strides in consumer education since the late ‘90s.”

On the retail front, the category continues to grow. “We carry about 10 different cachaça labels,” says Stephen Lelliott, spirits buyer for Wally’s Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles. “I would definitely say there has been a recent increase in both sales of cachaça and in the brands available.”

Lelliot attributes the increases to the ever-growing interest in mixology. Consumers are venturing beyond simple cocktails to masterful creations. “Cachaça fits in perfectly with this trend, as a substitute in any drink calling for rum, as well as other cocktails,” he explains.

History of the Category

Pitú, an industrially produced cachaça that is very popular in Brazil, has the advantage of being a pioneer in the category in the United States, according to Scott Tallon, spirits director, Winebow, Inc., importers of Pitú. “Pitú has been continuously available for almost 20 years. Initially, it was sold primarily in the ethnic market and in Brazilian churrascarias and riodizios. The last decade has brought attention to the mainstream market and we see the category shifting over from the Brazilian core markets to all areas of the business. We estimate our 2009 sales to be near 15,000 nine-liter cases. Sales were trending up even in the first quarter—the height of the economic downturn.”

“When I first started selling cachaça over 15 years ago, I felt like a missionary,” continues Tallon. “The mention of the word cachaça or the caipirinha would usually be met with, ‘God bless you’ and people would hand me a handkerchief. Nowadays everyone knows the spirit and the drink, so significant progress has been made.”

Though it’s the most recognized consumer brand in Brazil, not all Americans are comfortable with the strong flavor and harsh burn of Pitú, or other popular commercial Brazilian labels such as 51.

Made for the USA

In 2004, when Olie Berlic, founder/CEO, Excalibur Enterprise Inc., launched Beleza Pura, he created the first cachaça produced specifically for the U.S. market by working closely with a distillery in Brazil. “No one had heard of good cachaça in the U.S. even though hundreds of high-end, artisanal labels and aged cachaças could be found in Brazil. I was alone, screaming at the top of my lungs; ‘There is real quality here!’”

While Brazilian-Americans still prefer the Pitú or 51 they first experienced in their native land, the U.S. consumer is accustomed to a smoother, more distilled product. Not long after Berlic’s introduction of Beleza Pura, several other cachaças that were produced primarily for the U.S. market followed…

News & Reviews

Most Recent Press & Reviews