Cachaça Or Rum? That Is The Question

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Leblon Cachaça launches nationwide Cachaça 101 and Caipirinha classes to educate and put the question to rest

As the Founders of Leblon Cachaça, we are constantly asked: what is Cachaça? How do you say it? How do you use it? And most often: is it a Rum or not?

Cachaça is currently the fastest growing spirit in the United States, and more and more Americans are discovering Cachaça, the national spirit of Brazil. Cachaça grew from a mere 261k liters in 2005 to 450k liters in 2006 and 720k liters in 2007, and is expected to surpass over 900k liters this year, growing 50% versus 2007. That’s nearly 20 million Caipirinhas and growing.

To learn more about Cachaça and how to make great Caipirinhas, the experts at Leblon will be providing complimentary Cachaça Tastings and Caipirinha Classes this summer in major cities throughout the United States. Class locations, dates, and times will be posted on the Cachaca 101 website.

So what will the Leblon experts be teaching consumers eager to learn more about cachaça and caipirinhas?

Unique only to Brazil, Cachaça is pronounced ka-SHA-sa, with the emphasis on the ‘SHA.’ Like Hefeweizen, Fahrvergnugen, and Pinot Grigio, Cachaça is a foreign word easy to mispronounce – at least initially. As a newly adopted discovery, Cachaça is quickly becoming part of our ‘social currency’ lexicon. The same is happening for Cachaça’s cocktail sidekick, the Caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil popping up on cocktail menus across the country (pronounced kai-pur-EEN-ya, with the emphasis on the third syllable).

So what is Cachaça anyways? And is it a rum or not?

Cachaça is a Brazilian spirit distilled from fresh sugar cane juice. It is the third most consumed spirit in the world behind only vodka and soju/shochu, the Asian distillates made predominantly from rice. Historians date the initial creation of Cachaça somewhere between 1532 and 1550 in Brazil, predating the date of creation of rum (1651 in Barbados) by more than one hundred years.

Unlike Rum, which is usually made from molasses, Cachaça can only be made from fresh sugar cane juice, and can only be made in Brazil. Brazilian law requires that Cachaça be distilled no higher than 54% alcohol by volume, and bottled between 38% and 48% alcohol by volume. That being said, most exported Cachaça has an alcohol content similar to vodka, tequila, rum, or gin – 40% alcohol by volume (or 80 proof).

So why then the rum question? According to U.S. law, any spirit derived from sugar cane must be labeled as a rum – in Cachaça’s case, ‘Brazilian Rum.’ This nomenclature has been in dispute for some time, with discussion and consideration of separating Cachaça into its own ‘class,’ like tequila, or an ‘appellation’ within a broader class, like cognac and champagne. With the increasing popularity of Cachaça, more and more people are asking for the distinction, especially since the cultural and sensorial differences between rum and Cachaça are so significant.

So what are those sensorial differences? Since Cachaça is made from fresh pressed sugar cane juice, and not molasses (a derivative of sugar cane), it has a fruitier, fresher nose than rum. Its taste is subtly sweet and fresh, and since it comes directly from the crop, Cachaça has distinctive vegetal notes reminiscent of tequila (in fact, many mixologists and sommeliers liken Cachaça more to a tequila than a rum because of the unique vegetal notes in the nose).

How do you use Cachaça? In Brazil, Cachaça is consumed predominantly pure or in a Caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil. Made with muddled lime, the Caipirinha is now becoming a standard cocktail on menus across the country and the world. In addition, as a white spirit, Cachaça has amazing versatility, and is being used by bartenders and mixologists in their own creative concoctions, from twists on the classics (i.e. Brazilian Cosmos and Margarita Sambas) to frozen drinks (‘batidas’) and bar chef cocktails (think: muddled strawberries with basil…).

With the growing popularity of Cachaça, the Caipirinha, and ‘everything Brazilian,’ there are many Cachaças to choose from. New brands are arriving daily from Brazil, each with its own taste and approach. Generally speaking, Cachaças are made using two approaches: column stills or alambique copper pot stills. Column still Cachaças tend to be cheaper since they are made in a more efficient ‘continuous’ process. Cachaça made from alambique copper pot stills are typically more expensive, as they are made in small batches and have more delicate, refined taste profiles (and are referred to by Brazilian connoisseurs as ‘Artisanal’ Cachaças). Although most Cachaças are ‘white’ Cachaças, there are also many aged Cachaças that use various types of indigenous Brazilian woods.

Our Cachaça, Leblon, is distilled at our own state-of-the-art distillery, Maison Leblon, in the fertile Minas Gerais region. Our approach to Cachaça is unique: Gilles Merlet, our master distiller, approaches the fermentation, distillation, and finishing of Cachaça like a fine wine. Using techniques from his native land of France, Gilles manages every detail of the creation – from the hand-selection of the cane and his proprietary fermentation approach, to the Alambique batch-distillation and light-casking, triple-filtering, and master-blending. Gilles rests the final distillate in XO Cognac casks from France, giving Leblon an extra-special touch. As a result, Leblon Cachaça has a delicate, fruity nose, combined with an ultra smooth finish.

So, now that you understand what Cachaça is, how to say it, and how to use it, we invite you to explore this wonderful new world. Is Cachaça the next Tequila? Is the Caipirinha the new Margarita? We have no idea – but we do know this: it’s a wonderful thing.

Visit our Youtube videos to learn how to say Cachaça.

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Jaime Keller
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