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New York Press – “Brazilian Spirit”

Ernest Barteldes

One Man’s Quest to Bring Good Cachaça to the Masses

Cachaça is the name of Brazil’s national drink and can be found in every single boteco (bar) in the country for as little as 25 cents a shot. Though it’s commonly referred to as a “Brazilian rum,” there are in fact several differences between it and the Caribbean spirit. While rum’s distilled from molasses (which yields a higher sugar content), cachaça (pronounced cashasa) uses sugar cane juice, a distinction that can be immediately noticed since most cachaças smell like cane, while rum has a more sugary scent.

Several companies in the country mass-produce a cheaply-sold product that’s aimed at the masses; some of it is labeled as “aged” but, in fact, has caramel added to give it color (causing worse hangovers, as one producer once admitted to me). A lot of that has wound up on the shelves of New York bars as caipirinhas (cachaça, crushed lime, sugar and ice) popularity has grown.

There are, however, other smaller companies who dedicate themselves to making a higher quality product, although until recently they were hard to procure in the city. “Brazil is capable of highquality spirits,” says Olie Berlic, a former New York sommelier who took it upon himself to introduce premium cachaças to the American market after a five-year tour-de-force that began when Berlic traveled to Brazil in search of wine.

“I couldn’t find any wine producers who had a good portfolio,” he explains. He then set his sights on the distilled product, and set out to find companies who produced high-quality cachaça.

“I tasted over 800 brands and tried to find the players: I was convinced that a higher quality product had a place in the market.” He finally found a producer in São Paulo who had been mapping the sugar cane plantations for 20 years. To bring it to the U.S. market, he wanted to create an original name that promoted “the sophistication and spontaneity of Brazil,” Berlic says.

His Brazilian-born wife came up with the name Beleza Pura® (Pure Beauty), which refers to the purity of the product and also to the beauty of the country. “I identified regional elements and created something fresh and clean without any additives-rich in the palate, with a long finish and overall purity.”

Beleza Pura® is available at Astor Place Wine & Spirts, Beekman Liquors and a handful of other liquor stores in the boroughs (www.belezabrazil.com has a full list) where he often initiates his growing clientele in the use of the distinctive juice. Watching Berlic conduct a tasting is an educational experience: He doesn’t only pour the cachaças, he also instructs the audience about each region where the liquid is produced, the aging process and mixing suggestions. It’s clear that he’s in love with what he does. More recently, he introduced a 108-proof Brazilian absinthe in the U.S. market, “working with the producer to give it a younger appeal.”

Berlic also focuses on giving back to the country that gave him his livelihood, and his company has partnered with the Dreams Can Be Foundation, a U.S. not-for-profit organization that works with several organizations in Brazil to benefit needy children. Berlic’s company donates “to help the children to have a better opportunity.”

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