No matter how much you care about pole vaulting and Greco-Roman wrestling any other time, for two weeks this August, you will. All eyes will be on Rio during the Summer Olympics, and while you’re watching the competitions, you should be drinking something appropriate.
And in Brazil, that means cachaça. The country’s national spirit, this powerful liquor is distilled from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice and offers grassy, funky notes that work nicely in the kinds of fruity cocktails you want to sip by a beach. Cachaça is somewhat similar to the rhum agricole also made from fresh cane juice in the French-speaking parts of the Caribbean, but it’s quite different from most rums, which are made from molasses. However, just like with rum, cachaça comes both unaged and aged in wooden barrels.
With that in mind, here are five cachaças (and one bonus spirit) you should try this Olympics. And while you’re here, we’ll give you a cocktail recipe so you can make a cocktail other than the usual Caipirinha. Whether toasting the medal winners or drowning your sorrows, these are a true taste of Brazil. Boa sorte!
CACHAÇA 51 ($20)
You could call Cachaça 51 the Jack Daniel’s of Brazil: It’s inexpensive but reliably good and is the best-selling spirit in its home country. (Cachaça 51 sells almost a quarter-billion liters per year.) It’s got a clean and crisp flavor with that unmistakable raw-cane-juice grassiness, which makes it absolutely ideal for a Caipirinha. And if you’re looking to experiment and create your own cachaça cocktails, it’s a perfect canvas.
AVUÁ AMBURANA CACHAÇA ($50)
The vast majority of barrel-aged spirits around the world use just two types of wood: American oak or French oak. But Brazil’s rainforests hold a wide variety of exotic trees, and cachaça distillers have access to more than two dozen different woods, which add unique flavors you won’t find in other spirits. Avuá Amburana is a case in point, spending two years in barrels made from amburana, a member of the legume family that adds nice spiced-honey notes to the finished product.
YAGUARA BRANCA CACHAÇA ($30)
The creation of a family that’s been making cachaça for three generations and more than 100 years, Yaguara launched with a certified-organic blend of aged and unaged cachaça last year and is rolling out two new bottlings in time for the Summer Games. The clear and unaged Branca has a clean, crisp flavor that’s nice with lime, but there’s a nice earthiness underneath it that adds complexity.
NOVO FOGO TANAGER CACHAÇA ($35)
Another example of an exotic wood-aged cachaça, this bottling spends time in both American oak and arariba, a wood from southern Brazil that contributes a nice red color and notes of incense or sandalwood. It still has plenty of cachaça funk and freshness, though the aging also adds in some more whiskey-like notes. Try it instead of rye whiskey in a Manhattan for a really interesting cocktail twist.
YPIÓCA OURO CACHAÇA ($28)
Brazilians have been making booze from sugar cane since the early 1500s, but Ypióca, founded in 1846, is the country’s oldest brand that’s still in production. Ypióca owns its own sugar plantations and goes to great lengths to protect the environment, using farming techniques that value soil preservation over higher yields and turning its spent cane into cardboard boxes used to ship the cachaça. The Ouro ages for two years in balsam-wood vats, giving it a pale gold color and subtle woodiness somewhat similar to a reposado tequila, and just as cocktail-friendly. The distinctive bottle wrapping, hand-woven from Brazilian palm, really makes the bottle stand out, too.
CEDILLA LIQUEUR DE AÇAI ($29 FOR 375 ML)
Alright, alright, this isn’t cachaça, but it’s totally worth including, because I’m generous. Also it’s pretty hard to find a Brazilian spirit in the U.S. that isn’t cachaça; this liqueur might be the only one (and even it is made by the folks behind Leblon Cachaça). To make it, antioxidant rich superfruit açai berries macerate in unaged cachaça, with the addition of ginger and citrus to round out the flavor. The resulting sweet-sour liqueur has intriguing notes of chocolate and fruit, and goes with all sorts of spirits, though of course its first love is cachaça. Add a splash to a Caipirinha to transform it into something new.
Flor de Amburana
By Justin Ware, Johnny’s Gold Brick, Houston
Cachaça’s not just for fruity, sweet tropical drinks! It can be just as much as home in a strong, stirred, sophisticated sipper like this one. Complex Cocchi Americano and Yellow Chartreuse bring out Avuá Amburana’s floral and spice notes, while a splash of vinegar keeps the sweetness in check.
• 1½ oz. Avuá Amburana Cachaça
• ¾ oz. Cocchi Americano
• ½ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
• ¼ oz. White balsamic vinegar
• 2 dashes Orange bitters
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an edible flower.
WATCH JASON BLIND TASTE TEST BOTTOM-SHELF VODKA