By Adam Morganstern | Aug 11, 2016

If, instead of sports, your first thought while watching the Olympics is “I wonder what they’re drinking in Rio,” it’s time to get familiar with cachaça. The national spirit of Brazil dates back to the 1530s and is made from distilling fresh sugarcane juice — unlike rum which is typically made from molasses. It’s also the key ingredient in the country’s most popular cocktail, the caipirinha. Already one of the top consumed spirits in the world, cachaça is now finding a wider audience in the Unites States.

“Nothing else really tastes like it,” says Ivy Mix of Brooklyn’s Leyenda, who was named American Bartender of the Year last year by Tales of the Cocktail. “It’s got this great grassy flavor that’s super nuanced. And because you can age it in different woods, it’s not one of those products where each one tastes the same. For someone like me, who’s all about flavor profiles, it’s perfect for creating different cocktails. It’s like a painting palette with your choice of colors.”

Michael Neff, the Beverage Director of Holiday Cocktail Lounge in Manhattan’s East Village, has also been a long time fan of the spirit. “We’ve always had a cachaça cocktail since we opened, but now with everyone watching the Olympics, there’s a bigger interest. I like things that reflect where they’re from, and this is a very Brazilian thing — grassy, vegetal and some great funky notes. I like the traditional caipirinha, but it’s also perfect for frozen cocktails, especially those with fruit, lime, and coconut.”

Novo Fogo, a distillery in Southern Brazil, makes a wide range of cachaças, aged in different woods — all certified organic as well — that show off what this spirit is capable of. The basic Silver is aged in stainless steel and has the typical grassy notes as well as banana — it gives a good reference point to judge how the barrel aging affects the other releases. The Chameleon, aged in American oak, add vanilla and citrus notes, while the Tanager, aged in a mixture of two Brazilian kinds of wood, becomes a burst of cinnamon. Longer barrel aging starts to produce more complex and concentrated flavors, as with their Barrel-Aged release that’s in American oak for 2-3 years. The Single Barrel expressions are aged longer — a 5-year-old example became more refined and cognac-like. The newest expression Graciosa, named after a rainforest road, ages the spirit for two years in American oak, and then an additional 18 months in castaneira do Pará — wood from a Brazilian tree that is hard to obtain, as it is endangered, but the company sources legally…

…Now that you have some cachaças to seek out, it’s time to make your first caipirinha. Luckily, this is a very easy drink to make. The ratios vary, but essentially you are muddling lime and sugar, adding ice and cachaça then shaking — perhaps some samba or bossa nova music to get the rhythm right. Below is Ivy Mix’s recommendation, plus another to try if you’re feeling more adventurous.

Caipirinha — From Ivy Mix (Leyenda, NYC)

Take two quarters of a lime and muddle with a big spoon of granulated sugar.
Add 2 oz cachaça (Novo Fogo silver or other)
Add ice and shake HARD for about 5-10 seconds.
Pour entire contents into a rocks class.

Cachaca And Caipirinha: Get To Know Brazil’s National Spirit And Drink While Watching The Olympics
Forbes, August 11, 2016