Dreaming of Rio: Cachaça is Brazil’s answer to rum

Dreaming of Rio: Cachaça is Brazil’s answer to rum

Cachaça! Brazil's national booze produced from sugarcane (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Though most of the U.S is stuck in the doldrums of a chilly, gray winter, I’m in sunny Brazil. While the temperatures are averaging somewhere in the 50s at home, it’s a balmy 80 degrees and I’m on a beach in Rio with a cold drink in my hand. In my mind, at least.

Instead of waiting for the warmer months, I’m imagining they’re already here with an exotic cocktail straight from the other side of the Equator — thanks to my new friend cachaça. Made from sugarcane, cachaça (“ka-SHA-sa”) is Brazil’s answer to rum. While rum is typically made from the distilled byproducts of sugarcane (like molasses), cachaça is produced straight from fresh sugarcane before being fermented and distilled. It comes in two varieties, unaged (white) and aged (gold), but is more familiarly seen as the former.

Unaged cachaça has the slight flavor and aroma of fresh sugarcane, and it reminds me of a cross between silver tequila and light rum — light and aromatic like tequila but with a smooth end note like rum.

Cachaça makes a great substitute for white rum, vodka or even tequila in a cocktail, but I find that it is best showcased in Brazil’s fabulous and refreshing national cocktail: the Caipirinha (“kye-pur-een-yah”). Very similar to the Cuban Mojito, it’s a simple mixture of lime juice, sugar and cachaça. It can be made with rum if you haven’t any cachaça, though the flavor will be a bit different. I like to add a splash of tonic to my Caipirinha to add a bit of effervescence.

While cachaça used to be harder to find in the States, a few producers — Leblon, Velho Barreiro, Ypioca — are making their way onto the scene. Best of all, cachaca is fairly inexpensive — between 15 and 25 bucks at spirits retailers.

My recommendation: Grab yourself this exotic spirit to inject a bit of sunny Brazil into your day (or night).

The Caipirinha - Brazil's national drink made with cachaça (Photo via Wikipedia)

Classic Caipirinha
Makes one serving

1 lime, cut into wedges

2 teaspoons superfine sugar or 1 ounce of simple syrup*

2 ounces cachaça

1 cup of ice (crushed ice, if you have it)

Muddle half of the lime wedges and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and cachaça. Shake vigorously and serve in a rocks glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

Passionfruit Batida
Makes 3-5 servings

5 ounces cachaça

3 ounces coconut milk

2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

1 passion fruit (or substitute any tropical fruit, e.g.: pineapple, papaya, mango, etc.)

5 tablespoons sugar

Ice cubes, as needed

Shake together all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain into shot glasses and sip.

Chili Mama
Recipe by Leblon Cachaça; makes one serving

2 ounces cachaça

1/2 ounce lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar or a dash of simple syrup*

1 stem fresh cilantro

1/2 cup watermelon, chopped

1/2 small chili (like a jalapeno or serrano)

Muddle the chili, cilantro, watermelon and sugar in a shaker.

Fill shaker with ice and cachaça and lime juice. Shake well and strain over ice into a highball glass. Garnish with a few cilantro leaves and a few pieces of chopped watermelon.

*Simple syrup: Add equal parts of granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until the sugar is dissolved (about 3 minutes). Cool completely before using. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.

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