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.
Given that it often exceeds 40 percent alcohol, cachaça is also the country's go-to party spirit, meaning it's sure to flow freely during this year's World Cup celebrations. "Brazilians, especially the ones in Rio, are all about relaxing and embracing life," Noel says. "They sit on these hot beaches and cool down with fresh caipirinhas made in little hut bars on the beach.”
Noel, who also works as a consulting mixologist in New York, founded Avua Cachaça with two of his friends last year after a trip to Brazil. While there, they met the family of a respected cachaça distillery who had been producing the spirit for 90 years, and learned the techniques needed to start their own business while keeping the product authentic. "Avuá, like a good artisanal cachaça, is produced on a small farm by hand using wild yeast and pot stills," he says.
Even though there are about 20 different brands of cachaça available in the U.S., it remains a well-kept secret. Noel thinks the World Cup will help shine a light on the what the spirit has to offer. 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.