On the Cocktail Trail in Brazil, a Favorite Spirit Gets Frisky

To get a sense of the wide variety of cachaças available, Mr. Jannuzzi and I took a seat at Empório Sagarana, a bar in the Vila Romana neighborhood (there’s also a second location in hip Vila Madalena) that is styled as a traditional boteco of the state of Minas Gerais, a stronghold of cachaça production. Instead of a typical selection of just a few cachaças, Empório Sagarana sports a menu of dozens, many with tasting notes. It also begins with a manifesto of what is good cachaça, which Mr. Jannuzzi helped write.


A bartender at Rabo de Galo in Sao Paulo.

Tuca Vieira for The New York Times

While Empório Sagarana serves a few pre-bottled cocktails, it is mainly a cachaça and beer place. As we sipped from shot glasses of Serra Limpa, one of the first organic cachaças, and another from Fascinação, Mr. Jannuzzi explained that cachaça comes in two main varieties: industrial and artisanal. Both are made from fresh sugar cane juice (unlike most rums, which are made from molasses), but the former is made on large column stills; the latter, the only type connoisseurs consider worthy to drink, is made on a smaller scale using pot stills. Like rum, cachaça is sold both unaged and aged. Unlike rum, however, cachaça producers don’t limit their aging to just oak — instead they may use barrels made from any of a couple dozen different Brazilian woods. Moreover, a small avant-garde of producers has recently started highlighting different varieties of sugar cane as well as releasing vintage cachaças, Mr. Jannuzzi said. All of this gives the handful of bartenders working seriously with cachaça in craft cocktails in São Paulo a wide gamut of flavors to experiment with and the ability to create cocktails highlighting an individual bottle, he said.

“They are making cocktails thinking of the brands, they use only one cachaça. I really like that….

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