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Everyday with Rachel Ray – “Cane and Able”

Rob Willey

High-quality cachaça finds its way to America, just in time for Carnaval.

The numbers are hard to come by, but Brazilians probably spill more cachaça in a day than Americans drink in a whole year. A pungent (and notoriously potent) sugarcane liquor, cachaça (pronounced ka-SHA-sah) is Brazil’s national spirit and the key to that quintessential Carnaval cocktail, the caipirinha (ky-peh-REEN-yah). The average Brazilian drinks about 3 gallons of cachaça annually. The average American, well, not so much.

And with good reason. Until recently, most cachaça available in the United States was rough and fiery swill-the kind of hangover-in-a-bottle Brazilians call “beast killer,” “cat choker” or worse. But there’s hope for us yet. The caipirinha–a sour-sweet combination of crushed limes, sugar and cachaça-has become the darling of American bartenders, and first-rate cachaça is at last finding a place on American liquor-store shelves.

You’ll find cachaça next to rum, because that’s what cachaça is, technically. The difference-and its crucial-is a matter of foundation. They are both made from sugarcane, but most rum is made from molasses (the thick, dark syrup left after the sugar is extracted from the cane), which contributes a rich, sticky sweetness to the final product. Cachaça, on the other hand, is distilled from lightly fermented sugarcane juice, resulting in a leaner, more aromatic spirit with a tequilalike earthiness… Aged cachaça can take on an astonishing Scotchlike complexity, but for cocktail purposes you’re better off with something minimally aged.

And really, you should be using cachaça for cocktails. Although the good stuff is smooth enough to sip straight, its even better in a well-made caipirinha. It is a drink that makes you feel worldly and a bit more rowdy than a mojito might. And if you spill a little while dancing in the streets, take comfort in the fact that there’s plenty more where that came from.

Beleza Pura- Olie Berlic, a former New York City Sommelier, developed this soft, faintly smoky cachaça with cocktails in mind ($28, belezabrazil.com)

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