The fate of Cachaça (ka-sha-sa) in the United States is much like that of soccer: Every few years we cross our fingers and wait for the trend to catch on. This year has proven successful for both imports, thanks to the World Cup and the craft-spirits movement.
Distilled from freshly cut and pressed sugar cane—making it a closer relative to the lesser-known rhum agricole than the more ubiquitous rum styles made from molasses—Cachaça has a distinctive funky, herbaceous nose and a clean, complex flavor profile that varies according to the location of its cane fields and, if aged, the type of barrel (umburana, ipê, cedar, balsam) used.
Despite the variations (there are hundreds of Cachaças produced in Brazil), U.S. liquor stores have only recently replaced the unrefined rocket fuel we associate with the spirit with more indicative, artisanal expressions. Bartenders, in turn, have begun to use it to create cocktails beyond the traditional caipirinha. Here are three bottles to try.
Un-aged: Avuá Prata
Avuá produces two single-estate, limited-production versions that use a family recipe developed over three generations. Prata, rested in stainless-steel casks for six months before bottling, offers a clear view into Cachaça’s grassy, yeasty character, with a pleasantly dry finish. There’s really no end to how you can mix it. drinkupny.com.
Aged: Novo Fogo Gold
Matured for two years in small American-oak second-use bourbon barrels—which are dismantled, washed, sanded and re-charred before using—Novo Fogo Gold may be the most approachable Cachaça on the market. Hints of vanilla, caramel and banana (all derived from the cask) mitigate the intensity of the spirit’s vegetal notes, making it a gentle introduction to the category. Use it in cocktails that call for brown spirits, like a dark and stormy or a Boulevardier. drinkupny.com.
Wild Card: Cedilla
We’re not typically drawn to fruit-forward liqueurs, but we’ll make an exception for Cedilla (named after that phonetic marking added to the “c” in “Cachaça” and “açai”). A blend of Leblon’s un-aged Cachaça and the macerated Amazonian superfruit, it is surprisingly dry for such a sweet, viscous spirit. Add carbonated water for a refreshing soda or mix it into cocktails (in lieu of simple syrup) for an all-natural berry accent. drinkupny.com.