For our second installment of our "Understanding Cocktails" series, we've decided to jump into the world of cachaça (pronounced kah-SHAH-sah). Though relatively unknown in the States, cachaça has become more available over the past few years. And anyone who has visited Brazil knows that in its home country, it is revered, to put it lightly.

But what is it? And what to do with it?

Cachaça is distilled from the fermentation of the juice of fresh pressed cane sugar. This makes it distinct from (most) rum, because to make rum, you distill from fermented molasses. This leads to significant flavor and texture differences.

Though cachaça has many forms, you will generally find it as a lively, fun white spirit with a touch of sweetness, juicy texture, and very intense floral, herb and tropical fruit tones. It is also one of the few spirits that offers coconut and tapioca notes even when not aged in wood (read: it goes great with coconut). Some producers will also barrel age their cachaça to mellow the bite and introduce some vanilla, caramel, and baking spice notes. Generally, the aging is for only a few months, maybe a year or two at most, giving the resulting spirit a light tan color similar to Reposado Tequila. Unlike much of the world, however, cachaça producers prefer to use native trees for their barrels, imparting unique and specific characteristics you won’t find elsewhere.

Cachaça itself tastes and smells very tropical, so it makes a great base for fun, bright and sweet tropical drinks. However, its texture, much like pisco, begs for some citrus for balance. The most famous use for cachaça is the Caipirinha, a simple, exceptionally refreshing cocktail comprised of sugar, lime, ice and cachaça. Much like the Mojito, Caipirinhas take well to the addition of another fruit. For instance, simply muddling a strawberry while muddling the lime and sugar makes a delicious cocktail in its own right.

Due to its fruity, floral character, getting too fancy with bitters or complex liqueurs can often render the cachaça a moot element of a cocktail. However, with proper care and restraint, cachaça can play well with vermouth, red bitter liqueur, elderflower liqueur, and simple bitters, such as orange, lavender, and cherry.

Cocktails

Caipirinha

2 tsp sugar or 1 oz simple sugar

½ lime, sliced thinly for better muddling

1 lime wheel (garnish)

2 oz Cachaça

6-10 cubes of ice (enough to fill the glass)

Double Old Fashioned glass

Bar stirring spoon (optional)

Put the sugar into the glass, then add the limes and muddle until most of the juice has been extracted and the sugar has mostly dissolved. Add Cachaça, then ice, and stir for a few seconds, being sure to pull a bit of the sugar and lime from the bottom of the glass to the top in the process. Garnish with lime wheel.

Cachaça Coconut Mojito

2.5 oz Cachaça

1.5 oz Coconut water

1.5 oz Coconut cream

1 lime, sliced thinly for muddling

1 lime wheel

6-8 mint leaves (depending on size)

1 can soda water (you won't use the whole thing)

15 cubes ice

Bar Shaker

Pint glass

Add cachaça, lime, mint (save one leaf for garnish) and the coconut water to shaker and muddle very thoroughly. Add 5 ice cubes and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into pint glass. Dump leftovers from shaker, rinse with cold water, and return contents from pint glass to shaker. Add coconut cream and 6 ice cubes and shake for a minimum of 30 seconds, or until the ice begins to “slosh” in the shaker instead of “shink” (in other words, the pitch made by the shaking will decrease substantially, then remain constant when done). Strain the mixture back into the pint glass, then add remaining ice and fill the rest of the glass with soda water. Stir lightly. Garnish with lime wheel and mint.

Pro tip: Place the mint you saved as a garnish in your palm, and give it a good smack with your other hand. This will “activate” the mint, making it much more aromatic.

Pro tip 2: To avoid the two halves of the bar shaker getting stuck together, pour a tiny bit of soda water into it before each time you shake. Don’t add too much or it won’t stay shut, but just a little bit will counteract the suction effect caused by the cooling during shaking.

Variation:

Mojitos traditionally come in Collins glasses. We chose to go with a pint glass because the resulting cocktail is so delicious we felt a Collins was too short. If you really wanted to get this recipe to fit in one, you'd need to cut out some of the ingredients. To do so without sacrificing the proof (ABV) of the drink, you can replace all of the coconut water and half of the coconut cream with 1 oz of coconut rum, such as Malibu, and only use 2 oz of cachaça. We think this recipe’s balance is impeccable as is, but tradition is a powerful thing, so feel free to try it this way, too. Also note that with this version, you can add all the ingredients to the shaker at the same time.

Note:

The sweetness of a Mojito is a matter of taste. All of the ingredients here, outside of the lime and mint, are quite sweet, including the cachaça. If, however, you prefer just a bit more sweetness, add simple syrup to taste while adding the soda water at the end. You can also include a ½ of simple before the second shake.

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