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Flavor – “From the Cuban Mojito to Brazilian Cachaça, Latin-inspired Cocktail Creations are Catching On”

A.S. Crocket

Churrascarias, Brazilian-style barbecue restaurants like Fogo de Chão and Sal & Carvao, have been popping up in the United States, along with an interest in the Brazilian sugar-cane spirit known as cachaça.

In the past year, importers like Ollie Berlic, a former sommelier and principal of Excalibur Enterprise, have brought in a number of aged and higher-quality cachaças. Cachaça had much the same stigma that plagued tequila for years, but Berlic and others are trying to popularize better cachaças for the U.S. market. Their efforts have brought at least a halfdozen new brands onto the market this year.

Cachaça is made from pure sugar-cane syrup and is the main ingredient in Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha (KYE-per-EEN-ya). Made from crushed lime, sugar and cachaça, this upstart has only just begun to make headway here after years of popularity in Europe, according to Berlic. Following up on the success of the similarly made mojito, cocktail creators are finding new ways to employ the Brazilian rum. Paul Tanguay, corporate beverage director for SushiSamba, a three-unit Brazilian-Japanese- Peruvian-themed restaurant with operations in New York City, Chicago and Miami, says, “We’ve been serving caipirinhas for five years here, and there’s been a lot of interest from customers.”

He points out that while cachaça is basically an unknown spirit in the United States, it is the third best-selling type of liquor in the world after vodka and the Asian sochu, so there’s lots of growth potential. At SushiSamba, Tanguay has created versions of the caipirinha with fresh fruit and also offers a daily signature cocktail or “Sambatini”, many of which use cachaça.

He finds customer response to cachaça and other South American cocktails depends on location. Miami guests have taken the caipirinha to heart, for instance, while Chicagoans are a little more reluctant to experiment. Tanguay also stocks seven cachaças at the bar, but customers have yet to seek out specific brands or develop a following for varieties of cachaças. Only two years ago it was hard to find even two brands of the Brazilian spirit up north. But interest in cachaça is gaining, as is competition among restaurants to be in front of the next cocktail trend.

From tequilas to more mojitos, if you follow the Latin lead, wherever it goes, you’ll always arrive at a good cocktail.

>MAKE IT A MOJITO: This rum, mint and lime
mixture adapts well to added flavors and variations
on a theme
>KEEP AN EYE ON CACHACA: One of the bestselling
liquors worldwide has plenty of room to grow
in the American market

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