Cocktails with Cachaça, Brazil’s Best-Kept Secret

 Photograph by Sam Kaplan

If there's only one thing you know about cachaça, it's probably this: The Brazilian spirit is the main ingredient in a caipirinha. In fact, few liquors are so strongly associated with their flagship cocktail. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as a caipirinha is damn delicious when done right, and perfect for a late-summer affair. But just as tequila liberated itself from the margarita, cachaça is busting out on its own — and that's largely because we're just now getting the good stuff.

Brazil makes nearly a billion liters per year, but until recently 99 percent of it never left the country. Importers have caught on, and new bottles are showing up stateside, including many of the best aged varieties. Unlike whiskey and rum, which are matured in oak barrels, the most intriguing cachaças are rested in vats made from tropical hardwoods such as ipe or amburana. What emerges is a deep and complex spirit with an exotic overtone. If only all of our summer flings aged as well.


Caipirinha

  • 3/4 lime, cut into pieces
  • 2 to 3 tsp raw sugar
  • 2 oz unaged cachaça

Muddle lime and sugar in a rocks glass. Add cachaça, and fill glass with ice. Top with a cocktail shaker, and shake well.

Pequeno Ponche

  • 2 oz aged cachaça
  • 1 barspoon cane syrup
  • 1 lime wedge

Pour cachaça and cane syrup into a rocks glass and stir. Add ice, squeeze the lime into the drink, and drop in the lime wedge. Stir.

La Armadeira

  • 2 oz cachaça
  • ¾ oz grapefruit juice
  • ½ oz lime juice
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 1 barspoon Ricard (or other pastis, such as Pernod)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Club soda

Add first 6 ingredients to shaker, and shake well with ice. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass and top with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a ribbon of grapefruit peel.

Three Top Cachaças to Buy

Avuá Amburana, $50

Aged in 15-foot-tall casks made of exotic amburana wood, it surprises with flavors of cinnamon, coffee cake, and banana.

Leblon Seleção Verde, $25

With minimal aging, this still-strength (90 proof) spirit manages to be buttery and smooth, with a faint scent of cut grass.

Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged, $42

This extremely mellow cachaça is like a fine Jamaican rum, with notes of baked pineapple, clove, and tropical fruit.