So what is Cachaça?
Firstly, Cachaça (“ka-shah-sa”) is a pretty important liquor, being the third most popular spirit in the world after Soju and Vodka. The majority of it is consumed in Brazil, which is the country from which it originates.
Cachaça is distilled from the juice of fresh, unrefined sugar cane. Rhum Agricole is also made using fresh sugar cane juice, but it differs from Cachaça in a couple of ways:
i) Rhum Agricole is distilled to between 65 and 75%ABV, compared to Cachaça’s 48-52%ABV (so it only needs a small amount of dilution before bottling);
ii) Cachaça often uses rice- or maize-based yeast to start the fermentation process, whereas Rhum Agricole will use sugar yeast;
iii) Rhum Agricole must be produced to the appellation standards and thus must be made in certain locations, whereas Cachaça must simply be made in Brazil (although it will be made close to sugar cane fields, as the cane must be cut no more than 24 hours before being pressed to be fresh enough for use).
But is Cachaça Rum?
Well, perhaps by the same rationale that would describe gin as a “flavoured vodka”, but this is an oversimplification and, when you are delving a little bit deeper into the subject (like this article intends to do), I don’t think it is a helpful one.
Types of Cachaça
Clear and unaged, with no more than 6 grams of sugar added per litre.
A sweetened white Cachaça containing between 6 and 30 grams of sugar per litre.
A descriptive term for Cachaças that have been flavoured with herbs, spices or fruits.
Cachaça that has been matured in 700 litre wooden barrels. There are a number of types, based around how long it has been matured for:
i) “Aged” – matured for at least 1 year;
ii) “Premium” – aged for more than 1 year; and
iii) “Extra Premium” – aged for more than 3 years.
An interesting aspect of the aging process is that, typically, native Brazilian woods are used for the barrels rather than American Oak, etc.; some examples include Jequitiba, Amendoim and Amburana.
What does it taste like?
To get a handle on Cachaça as a spirit, I thought it was best to start by looking at the unaged version. Here are my thoughts on four examples.
1) Sagatiba Pura
Founded by Marcos de Moraes in 2004, Sagatiba is produced in the town of Patrocinio Paulista in the Brazilian State of Sao Paulo. The name comes from a combination of the prefix “saga” (Nordic for “legendary”) and “tiba” (“infinite” in the local Tupi language). In 2011, it was sold to Campari-Milano for $26 million.
i) On its own
Nose: Smoky with a touch of juicy citrus.
Taste: Wood smoke, raisins (like sherry) and the woody finish of a Highland Scotch.
Crisp and flavourful, with more of a hint of salty smokiness at the start; this gives way to some sweetness and a tart, lime finish. Clean and cooling.
An organic Cachaça, Abelha comes from Bahia in Northern Brazil, where the sugar cane is grown organically on highland, sandy soil. The cut cane is processed within 24 hours and fermentation uses culture yeast originally found on green sugar cane.
i) On its own
Nose: A honeyed sweetness & fruity notes, like sloe berries or sweet plum.
Taste: Initially sweet and creamy, this is cleaner in flavour and less fruity than the others with a touch of vanilla and nectarine flesh. There’s an intriguing vegetable hint on the finish, somewhat like asparagus.
Richer, jammy, fruity flavours, such as peach, with a touch of raw honey. There is also a tiny hint of smoke and a touch of anise on the finish. Clean, yet comforting, this is both cooling and packed full of flavour.
Germana is made by Uniagro, but was originally made by the Caetano family on their Vista Alegra ranch. Germana means something which is genuine, pure, without mixing. Germana was also the name of a mystical nun who used Cachaça in medicinal preparations. Germana uses natural fermentation (using cornmeal-fed yeast in the sugar cane) for their mash.
i) On its own
Nose: Very fruity: figs, raisins; lots of jammy fruit. Also, a touch of spice.
Taste: Quite thick in texture, this is also rather rum-like, with flavours of dark treacle and raisins. It reminds me somewhat of Pusser’s or Wood’s Rum. The finish was clean, woody and dry.
Cooling and clean, with some hint of smoked ham and anise. Simple, but effective and with character, this is very easy to enjoy, having some depth but not being overly-complex.
Often translated as “Crazy Lips”, BocaLoca make both standard, unaged Cachaca as well as a Passionfruit-flavoured Aromatised version. It is produced near Rio de Janeiro, exclusively for export.
i) On its own
Nose: Vanilla and cinnamon, like a cinnamon swirl, coffee and chocolate.
Taste: Sweeter, with a lot of vanilla, this is closer to a vodka than rum. There’s a creamy touch of sweetness and an initial burst of chocolate (reminding me of a pain au chocolat), followed by a dry and slightly bitter note on the finish, leaving a resounding sense of the combination of a breakfast pastry and a cup of coffee.
With vanilla and coconut elements, this is very clean, with a little sweetness at the end. It’s different to the others, having less flavour, but is nonetheless still quite intense and pleasant to drink.
*Rum is also under-represented, but with so many great rum websites out there, I have decided to steer clear; professional courtesy, if you will.
As with almost other spirits, the flavours and characteristics of Cachaça can vary immensely (even among the unaged varieties), which was particularly well illustrated by the four that I tasted today. The differences came through both when sipping the spirit neat and when mixing them in a Caipirinha.