CaipirinhaInitially, Tara focused on some of the facts and history about the spirit. First, while cachaça is labeled "rum", it differs historically and stylistically from rum proper even though both are made from the sugar cane. After a decade or two of cane juice being fermented into wine in Brazil, cachaça was invented around 1550 after the wine was distilled. Rum, on the other hand, was invented in Barbados nearly a century later in 1640. What's the difference? Cachaça is made from the juice of freshly pressed sugar canes whereas rum is generally made form refined sugar and molasses. There are other differences which include the variety of barrels and different yeast strains that are often used in making cachaça. A lot of cachaça's history is riled with conflict with the Portuguese government who sought to stifle and/or tax the liquor especially since it cut into the sales of their grappa to Brazil. We were also pointed towards Jared McDaniel Brown's book The Soul of Brazil for a more detailed history of the spirit and the Brazil's struggles with Portugal.
• 2 oz Cachaça (Leblon)
• 1/2 Lime (cut into ~4 pieces)
• 2 tsp Sugar
Muddle lime and sugar in a mixing glass. Add cachaça and ice, shake, and pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with a fresh lime wedge.
After the definitions and history segment, it was time to taste some cachaças straight. The first one we sampled was GRM which is a small batched cachaça that sells for about $75/bottle. One thing that made the product so distinctive was that it is aged in three different wood barrels -- oak, jequitiba rosa, and umbarana -- for 2 years and then blended to get the desired flavor. GRM was definitely a crowd favorite with its cinnamon, Christmassy, dried fruit, caramel, and grassy notes. Later, I stepped behind the bar and made a caipirinha to pass around with this one and it was rather stunning; and apparently, if you go to Toro in Boston, you too can have one or drink the spirit straight for they are one of the few local bars or restaurants to carry this product. The second cachaça was Rochinha which apparently is more easy to get than GRM in this country and sells for around $85/bottle. Aged for 12 years in oak barrels, this cachaça appeals to Scotch drinkers for it contains some peaty notes in the nose. Besides the caramel notes, it also had some sharp chemical burn notes often associated with the industrial cachaça despite it being artesanal (it was suggested that it was more of a planned than accidental note).
For a Leblon-sponsored event, I was surprised that Leblon was batting third. Perhaps it was to say that while there are some amazing cachaças out there, their product is a lot more affordable than those and still much better than the industrial ones flooding the U.S. market. And perhaps the tasting of the other brands was to instigate a fervor for the spirit in general. Leblon is aged in used Remy Cognac barrels for 6 months and the product retails for $25-30/bottle. Besides the grassy notes, Leblon was much sweeter than the other two we tasted. Moreover, it was rather reminiscent of a blanco tequila. The last one we tasted was the Industrial Brand X, a label-less bottle to represent the Pitu, 51, or other large scale brands. These brands are rougher on the sugar cane processing and can also involve burning of the husks which imparts a smoky note to the product. Between the shorter aging and less careful distillation practices, Brand X was short on spice flavors and richness but higher in chemical burn notes. Many of these brands sell for $15-20 here in the U.S. and apparently around $1 in Brazil.
Overall, the crowd seemed excited by the cachaças we tasted and left with a greater understanding of not only the spirit in general but of the range in quality and variety of styles available in the U.S. market today. Many seemed surprised that some cachaças could be appreciated like single malt Scotches and other fine spirits without the need for all of the lime and sugar to mask the spirit's flaws. And after receiving all of the Leblon swag, at least one of us left wondering what to do with yet another muddler for the collection...