For a change, let’s move to alternative spirits for a short while. As part of Rumfest 2019, there-in lay the Cachaca festival.
Cachaca is a Brazilian drink. With over 40,000 producers and 5000 brands, cachaca is by far the most consumed spirit in Brazil, only 2% of which is exported. First distilled in the early 1500’s, cachaca pre-dates rum by a hundred years or so. Like other spirits, cachaca is typically governed by preservation and protection laws. In general:
- Cachaca must be derived from the juice of fresh sugarcane.
- The mandatory bottling alcohol strength must lie between 38-48% abv.
- Up to six grams of sugar per litre can be added.
- Unlike whisky, cachaca can be aged & stored in casks of numerous wood types including many native Brazilian species unfamiliar to European noses & palates. Casks should be no bigger than 700 litres [the same as for Scotch].
Like mezcal and tequila, there are many types and sub-categories of cachaca with differently applied rules, and like most drinks other drink categories, there is cachaca and then there is cachaca. Further reading: cocktailwonk.com: cachaca’s regulations demystified
I start my cachaca journey with Companheira. I tried four from their range of unaged & aged cachaca from 0-8 years.
- Companheira Prata  Ob. 40% [50cl]
- Companheira Castanheira 2yo  Ob. 40% [50cl]
- Companheira Imburana 2yo  Ob. 40% [50cl]
- Companheira Carvalho 4yo  Ob. 40% [50cl]
- C: The unaged [Prata] cachaca is where it’s at for me, though both two-year-olds [Castanheira & Imburana] are unusual and intriguing to my palate. Indeed, I haven’t the experience/knowledge to describe notes born from native Brazilian trees used to make barrels from. I’m told the Castanheira is matured in casks from chestnut, though pictures of those fruits/nuts/seeds look more like hazelnuts. Tinterweb says it’s a Brazil nut! Once we get to four years [Carvalho], the spirit is largely quiet and the presentation more cognac-like. I didn’t manage to reach the Extra Premium 8yo, instead going back to the unaged Prata that I loved for its soft pong and sublime mouthfeel. It is however begging for a higher strength presentation.
Alambique Brasil Amburana  Ob. [750ml]
Aged for a short time in Brazilian cherry wood.
- N: Peas and apples with a little more funk than the one that follows, but a touch tame overall.
- T: Tamed but with an interesting wood element unfamiliar to my whisky-centric palate.
- F: Roots and bark [from the cherry wood], and a touch of aniseed.
- C: Funky soft butyric. Nice, intriguing.
Scores 82 points
Alambique Brasil Carvalho & Amburana  Ob. [750ml] tFRP4/5
Aged for 8 months in new Brazilian wood and French oak.
- C: Soda water, a dash of lemonade and loads of vanilla over neutral/column still rum, with lemon cake sponge at the death. Very tame/standard.
Scores 78 points
Some advice that has been circulating, was to look out for cachaca’s in beer style bottles. Additionally, to seek out cachaca enthusiast [and distributor of over 400 brands], Leszeq Wedzicha [tFRP]. Once located, Leszeq took me through some of his cachaca ‘specials’ that were placed in a large ornate silver fruit basket at the back of the stands. We start with a natural soft funky product.
Weber Haus  Ob. 40%/80 proof [1ltr]
- C: Smells stronger than it tastes, yet it’s only 40%! Like the Companheira Prata [above], I can taste its deliciousness on the nose – olfactory joys! I was too engrossed in listening to Leszeq to take much else in.
Indaiazinha [8yo] Ob. Balsa wood 47% [300ml] tFRP4.5/5
I’m told this highly respected cachaca is very “natural”, and limited by design.
- N: Light fruity pechuga vibes, light murky papery/woodiness, something perfumed, fruit yoghurt, poppadoms,…. yet I’m only scratching the surface. There are notes here I cannot possibly identify.
- T: Tight, light-yet-acute sugary metals and more unfamiliar, murky flavours. Seems like there’s a marriage here, the wood shaping the spirit. A never-ending spicy bone-dry chewiness ensues.
- F: With a rootsy herbal spice, the balsa appears as a dry tickle on the tongue.
- C: I’m very grateful to Leszeq, who is providing me with the dog’s proverbials.
Scores 88 points
Pardin Oloroso cask ‘experimento’ unreleased abv unknown
- N: It’s Brazilian Christmas time! We’ve boozy fruit juice with aromatic spices – so a seasonal punch if you will.
- T: Spirit, in general, can struggle against dominant oloroso casks and here’s another example. The spirit has coped very well, but it’s on the edge. We are provided with Brazilian mince pies, accompanied by a glass of sweet sherry on the side.
- F: Sustained mild-sweetness and even milder fresh.
- C: I’d prefer the spirit to be freer from the wood, but this is one lovely [experimental] cask and boy does the sugar cane spirit pair nicely with it. A drinker for sure.
Scores 86 points
Santo Grau Solera P.X.  Ob. 39% [750ml] tFRP4.5/5
Santo’s solera system is comprised of five 500ltr casks. Proper farm maturation I’m told and pictures attest to it.
- N: Fruity funk, PX > sugar cane, onion gravy, roast dinners,… I ask Leszeq what the essence of sugar cane is. “Grassy” he replies. I ask about the frequent appearance of metal-y/coppery notes. Again, “essence of sugar cane”, he says. [Note to self: To love rum and cachaca is to love sugar cane].
- T: Thyme, rosemary, stout [this appeared before], and more gravy action – think of the last mouthful of a roast dinner when you use the last roast potato to scrape the plate clean.
- F: Becomes really earthy like a slightly green raw potato with lettuce.
- C: Boy does this stands out. Peculiar!
Scores,…. I’ve no idea. My instinct says somewhere around 88 points but I lack the context to fairly place this juice style on a points scale.
Leszeq Wedzicha again: “With cachaca, never look at the colour”.
Cambeba 10yo  Ob. Organica 39% tFRP4.5/5
- N: Deliciously soft with notes of fusty honey dunnage/putty. A style familiar then, to a whisky palate, and yet not.
- T: Whilst the nose is more cask-led, the spirit holds the palate. We’ve the most unusual narrow, soft yet vibrant & juicy fruity arrival I’ve ever experienced, followed by acute sour fruits that are a touch fusty.
- F: Plenty of oak action here with an illusion of barley sugar. In between, I got moderately-sweet [non-descript] juice dripping from sun-baked drying fruits hanging from the tree.
- C: Complex, soft and vibrant. Best cachaca of the day.
Scores 89 points
Check out cachaca crystal blenders glasses. Cute! Check out cachaca too, a world within a world. With thanks to Leszeq Wedzicha and co.