Cachaça, the most popular spirit in Brazil, is still largely a mystery to Americans. Pronounced ka-SHA-sa, it's the star ingredient in Brazil's national cocktail, the Caipirinha, and is perhaps best described as a sugar distillate and is made from freshly pressed sugarcane juice that is then fermented. Although it was long referred to as Brazilian rum, the U.S. officially began recognizing it as a distinctive liquor in 2012.
"The flavor of a high quality artisanal cachaça is to me very vegetal, some olive brine, fresh cut grass, a slight sweetness, and tropical fruits," says Justin Noel, a native of Brazil and a co-founder of Avua Cachaça.
Even though there are about 20 different brands of cachaça available in the U.S., it remains a well-kept secret. For newcomers, he recommends beginning with Avua Prata — a popular, unaged cachaça that is rested in stainless steel casks before being bottled — which "opens the door" to what the spirit can taste like. Then, they can graduate to Avua Amburana, which is aged in Amburana wood found in Brazilian forests. "[Amburana] kicks the door wide open and shows how versatile the spirit can be," he says.