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Cachaça Is Back on the Horizon

Elyse Glickman

With Brazil back on the map in light of the recent, highly televised 2014 World Cup and the approach of the 2016 Olympics, it is safe to reason that the companies behind marketing cachaça may be planning a comeback. However, instead of looking to Rio, bartenders, buyers and programmers may want to look for inspiration 275 miles away in Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais state.

The region is the main production center for commercial and boutique cachaça. The city, meanwhile, also counts over 18,600 bars and restaurants, trumping Rio and business center São Paulo. For professionals who travel to find new inspirations for their bars and bottom lines, the Belo Horizonte bar scene is one worth mining, especially if they're looking find ways to build upon the promise of cachaça they bought into a few years ago.

About a decade ago, cachaça, Brazil's homegrown spirit, seemed poised to be the next big thing out of Brazil. Leblon, Sagatiba, Cabana and other brands put lots of energy and marketing into putting cachaça on the world map, drawing in part upon splashy images of the lifestyle of Rio's fashionable and fearless.

Even though the campaigns were popular with consumers and industry people alike, some skeptics wrote the emerging spirits category off as a fad. Others said cachaça's centuries-old reputation as a working man's sugar cane juice-based spirit got lost in translation, and fell short of the authenticity Gen X and Gen Y customers were seeking in their cocktail drinking experience. For a while, the heat originally generated by the big brands began to cool, even with their bottles still on bar shelves and Caipirinhas (the sassy cachaça-based cousin to Mojitos and Daiquiris) remaining in cocktail programs at Latin American-themed bars and restaurants.

While the marketing spotlight for the category may shine on Rio, there are a group of trail-blazing bartenders and cocktail consultants based in Belo Horizonte who think that with some good planning and a greater focus on the spirit's versatility itself, cachaça's next wave may last a lot longer than a good marketing campaign.

Where do you begin your research with 18,000 bars at your disposal?

Tony Harion, a brand ambassador for Grey Goose and owner of Mixing Bar Premium Cocktails (a consultancy for various restaurants and bars looking to push their cocktail programs to the next level), says to start with the basics. This means a visit to an informal cachaçaria like Via Christina, which offer over 900 varieties of the spirit, along with several varieties of simple fruit caipirinhas. Ordering up flights offers insights into the full range of the category's versatility and potential as a foundation for a distinctive cocktail. He also suggests visiting cachaças specialty stores in Belo Horizonte's Mercado Central to understand its scope and depth.

"My advice to American bartenders and bar managers is to seek out and try all cachaças available in the United States . . . not just Leblon but also smaller boutique brands with U.S. distribution, and if they're in Brazil, better brands not available in the U.S.," says Harion. "Cachaça is great friends with fresh fruit in season, as well as tropical fruits like mango and pineapple, various citrus fruits and melons. cachaça does well with ingredients that would well with rum (because both have a sugar composition) or blanco tequila (because both spirits have grassy notes). Although there are fewer aged cachaças on the market in the U.S., including Leblon's newly launched aged spirit, make an effort to find them and learn to use them."

Although Harion says that Leblon's aged cachaça can be used in a similar fashion to aged rum or bourbon in different recipes, it may benefit your recipes to research the woods used in barrels other dark cachaças are aged in to suss out different flavor nuances.

Despite his reputation for elaborate, sophisticated cocktails, Harion's colleague, João Morandi (who holds court at the arty, eclectic bar Dub and also consults), has a very straight-forward way to introduce newcomers to the spirit.

"Rum is distilled from molasses, which is sugar cane juice reduced, resulting in a strong flavor," Morandi explains to my colleague, Rachel Weil, who has primarily focused on covering wine for PeterGreenberg.com. "Cachaça is only distilled from the sugar cane juice itself, so you don't have the strong flavors you'll find in rum. Rums have a powerful set of fruit notes while cachaça's notes are more subtle and soft, more floral and citric. The second thing you need to know is that we have an industry of large producers as well as an industry of small batch producers who like other artisanal distillery spirits are focused on quality rather than quantity. Rules have been established for these better cachaças that are kind of like a DOC product. You can have it distilled with no aging, aged for about a month for a rounder flavor or aged for years in a cask to attain a deeper and more complex flavor like Cognac from France."

Tiago Santos (now based at Jangal), another part of Belo Horizonte's bartending elite, suggests bar managers and bartenders familiarize themselves with Brazilian cuisine, as his cocktails have a culinary aspect similar to many Brazilian food dishes in that they balance sweet, salty, bitter and mild flavors. Those newer to the spirit should start experimenting with white/unaged cachaça before moving on to aged ones (such as Leblon's recently launched variation) that may take getting used to in terms of knowing what will mix with the spirit. Harion, meanwhile, says a good rule of thumb with white cachaça is to play with ingredients that work well with rum (because of its similar sugar composition) or blanco tequila (as it has grassy notes in common with cachaça).

Santos explains that once you've introduced customers to cachaça and caipirinhas, keeping their interest in cachaça involves getting out of the Caipirnha comfort zone into more adventurous territory with drink recipes and presentation. The other challenge involves continuity, especially when it comes to meeting the expectations of the adventurous customer on a regular basis.

For those with a solid familiarity with caipirinhas and a command of cachaça use, fellow BH bartender/consultant Filipe Brasil says they can move forward and break with traditional ingredients and work in less traditional and familiar ingredients, such as celery or beet root, taking customers out of their comfort zone in the process.

RECIPES


Brew & Love
Tony Harion, The Mixing Bar 

1½ oz. cachaça
Top with carbonated cold brew coffee (or iced coffee)
Orange twist for garnish

Fill a tall grass with ice. Fill with cachaça. Top with carbonated cold brew coffee and garnish with an orange twist. 


Uai Tai (Pronounced "Why Tai")
Tony Harion, The Mixing Bar 

2 oz. Maison Leblon Reserva Especial (oak-aged cachaça)
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. orange Curaçao or triple sec
½ oz. Brazil nut orgeat syrup
¼ oz. simple syrup

Mix all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain over crushed ice.Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh mint.

To make the Brazil nut orgeat syrup (500 ml or 17 fl. oz.):  

9 oz. Brazil nuts
1½ cups water
3 cups sugar
½ teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
½ teaspoon rose water (optional)

Put nuts in a plastic bag and break them up a little using a wooden mallet or hammer. In a saucepan, add the nuts, water and sugar and boil for five minutes. Strain using a cheesecloth and store in a clean bottle. Will keep for a month in the fridge.


Leblon Mule
Tony Harion, The Mixing Bar 

2 oz. Leblon Cachaça
½ oz. lime juice

In a copper mug or rocks glass with ice add the cachaça, lime juice and ginger ale. Stir gently and add the ginger foam. Garnish with a lime wedge and ginger foam.


Blyckman´s Stage
Tiago Santos, Meet Me at The Yards, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

1¾ oz. cachaça
¾ oz. Aperol
2½ oz. orange juice
1¼ oz. pear juice
½ oz. papaya puree

Shake all ingredients and serve strained over crushed ice.Garnish with burnt cinnamon stick.


Meet Me Cachaça Bloody Mary
Tiago Santos, Meet Me at The Yards, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

1¾ oz. Leblon Cachaça
2 oz. tomato juice
1 oz. lime juice
1/3 oz. simple syrup
½ oz. Worcestershire sauce
¼ oz. Ardbeg Scotch
2 pinches of salt
3 pieces of celery
1 slice of ginger
10 drops of Tabasco sauce

Muddle the celery and roll all the ingredients with ice. Serve strained over fresh ice. Garnish with celery and charred tomatoes


Defy & Default
Tiago Santos, Meet Me at The Yards, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

1¼ oz. cachaça
¼ oz. beetroot puree
2 leafs of arugula
2 lemon peel slices
¼ oz. lima juice (exotic citrus from Brazil; you can also use Key limes)
1 oz. simple syrup
1/3 oz. lime juice
Shake all ingredients and serve strained over crushed ice.

 

Ritual Offering
Tiago Santos, Meet Me at The Yards, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

2 oz. cachaça
½ oz. mango puree
¾ oz. grapefruit juice
3 small pieces of celery

In a cocktail shaker muddle the celery and add the other ingredients. Shake with ice and serve strained over fresh ice.Garnish with apple slices.


Brazilian Jazz

Alexandre Gledson, aka Gledão, at Jângal 

2 oz. cachaça
2 oz. Cedilla Açaí Liquor
5 oz. graviola (soursop) juice (available at Hispanic and Asian markets)
3½ oz. cupuaçu cream (available at Hispanic markets, as a cousin of cacao)

Complete with ginger foam, made with fresh ginger or extract, egg whites, lime juice and sugar


Apple Bossa
Alexandre Gledson, aka Gledão, at Jângal

1 oz. Grey Goose La Poire
2 oz. cachaça
3½ oz. apple and cinnamon tea


Cachaça Bramble & Tonic
Joao Morandi, DUB, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

1½ oz. cachaça
¾ oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
½ oz. Artisanal Cardamom Syrup
Top off with tonic water
½ oz. blackberry syrup for topper
Garnish with cucumber slice and lemon zest

Add ingredients with ice cubes, as many as you can get, into a shaker. Shake and strain to new ice in a red wine glass. Top it with tonic water, drizzle with blackberry syrup. Garnish with cucumber slice and lemon zest.

Merlet Mint Julep
João Morandi, DUB, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

2 oz. Cachaça Merlet Signature
¾ oz. sugar cane simple syrup
10 mint leaves
3 mint sprigs for garnish

In a metal mug, add 10 mint leaves, Cachaça Merlet Signature and sugar cane syrup. Gently muddle all together, top with crushed ice. Stir. Top with more crushed ice and garnish with 3 mint sprigs.



Guaraná Delight 
Dickie Goggin, bartender at Gilboa
PHOTO: CECILIA KRUEL

 2 oz. cachaça
1 oz. lime juice
½ oz. lychee syrup (Monin Lychee)
½ oz. Cedilla Açai liqueur
1½ oz. Guaraná soda
3 dashes Root Beer Bitters
8 basil leaves


Citric Love
Dickie Goggin, bartender at Gilboa
PHOTO: CECILIA KRUEL

2 oz. cachaça
½ oz. lemon juice
1½ oz. orange liqueur
2 oz. ginger ale
3 dashes Angostura Bitters


Dark Cloud
Dickie Goggin, bartender at Gilboa
PHOTO: CECILIA KRUEL

2 oz. cachaça
1 oz. lime juice
½ oz. blackberry syrup (Monin Blackberry)
1½ oz. cloudy apple juice
½ oz. Aperol

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