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Wine & Spirits – “After the muddlin’”

David Wondrich

Until recently, I would’ve considered “cachaça tasting” code for “wild drunken spree.” One of the largest-selling spirits in the world, the national spirit of Brazil has traditionally been represented in the American market only in its most industrial incarnations, brands that are produced by the tankerload in stills that wouldn’t be out of place in an oil refinery. That even these manage to retain a good deal of essence of the raw sugarcane juice from which they are distilled is a testament to the pungency of Brazilian cane and the funkiness of Brazilian tastes. But they’re hardly sipping-grade liquors: Along with the cane, there are lots of other interesting flavors, not excluding burnt rubber, seawater and hairspray. Enter the Caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, which has a way of taming all that unpleasantness. But once you’re making Caipirinhas it’s awfully hard to stop. Hinc illae lacrimae, as the Romans would say, which you can translate however you want as long as it includes darkened rooms, pitiful groans, and dull feelings of regret.

But Brazil is a big country and it has hundreds, even thousands of distillers, many of whom make their pinga in small batches from local cane, using copper pot stills, and then pour it into barrels of, say, jequitiba wood, or maybe arariba wood- or sometimes even plain old oak- and let it sit for a year or two (or 12). Luckily, some of these brands are beginning to filter into the US, enough anyway for us to put together a blind (as opposed to blind drunk) tasting. Our panel gingerly tasted its way through a whopping 16 cachaças, industrial and artisanal. (The Caipirinhas came after.)

Here are the eight Cachaças we all agreed on, broken down by age.

Of the five we tried that were Caipirinha-grade (aged a year or less) we particularly like the lovely Beleza Pura, a premium brand whose soft, grass notes recalled fresh-cut cane…. We made Caipirinhas…the one with Beleza Pura® was far more suave than any I’ve ever had….

The other 11 were sipping-grade. The seven examples aged one to two years produced 3 clear winners… GRM, a wildly spicy artisanal number bursting with honeysuckle and caraway and God-knows-what (it’s the exotic woods); highly recommended.

The remaining Cachaças, two each from Armazem Vieira and Rochinha were all quite old, and exotic and delightful. We particularly like the Armazem Vieira Esmeralda, aged for years for its balance of smoothness and piquancy (more exotic woods) and the Rochinha Single Barrel five-year-old for, well, everything.

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