In celebration of International Cachaca Day (13th September), The Thinking Drinkers have shared a comprehensive guide to the Brazilian spirit.
Award-winning alcohol experts, historians and comedians, Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham are The Thinking Drinkers. Together they write and perform comedy tasting shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and in leading theatres across the UK, with their latest show ‘The Thinking Drinkers Pub Quiz’ launching at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and running from August 2022 until spring 2023 across the UK.
Like an overly hirsute lady about to go on her summer beach holiday, it’s time to go for a Brazilian – as the Thinking Drinkers celebrate National Cachaca Day.
Despite being one of the world’s biggest selling spirits, Cachaca remains relatively unknown in the UK beyond its role as the key component in the classic Caipirinha cocktail. But according to two of the UK’s leading alcohol experts – Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham, aka The Thinking Drinkers – it’s seldom been a better time to discover Brazil’s national drink.
Pronounced “Ka-sha-ssar”, it was first introduced to Brazil by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century. A forerunner to rum, cachacas are traditionally made by distilling fermented sugar cane juice from Brazil’s vast swathes of sugar plantations.
Production approaches vary, with traditional distillers still using wild yeast strains and copper stills to evoke sweeter, vegetal notes, while modern adopters opt for column stills to fashion a cleaner, neutral taste profile.
Cheaper versions that seldom leave Brazil can be eye-wateringly raw, rough and rustic but in recent years there’s been a gradual rise in exports of really rather refined cachacas distilled on pot stills and aged in wood like top-end tequilas.
If the spirit is identified as ‘aged’, it must spend at least a year in wood, and while aging is not required, it can round off some of cachaca’s sharper notes. Many producers are also experimenting with ageing techniques – resting their spirits in in different Brazilian wood barrels.
“These quality cachacas showcase the sugar cane character and can be sipped neat or in cocktails,” said Tom Sandham. “Unaged cachaças are grassy, fresh and delicate with herbal character while aged varieties, darker in colour and earthier and richer in character, deliver pepper, vanilla fudge and caramel.”
Beyond the classic Caipirinha, the discerning drinking duo suggest a Batida or a Rabo de Gallo – two of Brazil’s most popular cachaca cocktails. “Dovetailing the mellow character of a sipping rum with the buzz of a tequila, Cachaca is an incredibly versatile spirit,” added Ben McFarland. “It can really shine in cocktails that would otherwise call for agave spirits, white rum or vodka.”
Pronounced “ky-per-rean-yah”. It’s a traditional Brazilian cocktail meaning “little countryside drink” and is a simple coming together of limes, sugar and cachaca.
Half a lime cut into 4 lime wedges
1 tablespoon of unrefined white sugar
Muddle the lime with the sugar in the glass, add crushed or cubed ice, stir, add the cahcaca, and stir again.
Some say that this is Brazil’s version of the Pina Colada but it’s better than that.
60ml fresh coconut milk
30ml condensed milk
Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with a mint leaf
Rabo De Gallo
Loosely translated as “Tail of the Rooster”, this classy ‘cock-tail’ is a Negroni-style sipper also starring an iconic Italian artichoke aperitivo.
25ml Sweet Vermouth
Add ingredients to stirring glass full of ice. Slowly stir until chilled and strain into ice-filled glass. Garnish with Lime Twist
Three to Try
Not one, not two but three types of sugar cane are distilled and aged for three years to create a sweet cachaca with a hint of vanilla – all delivered in a a handsome looking bottle.
Abelha Organic Gold
Distillation in copper pot stills adorn this organic cachaca with assertive sweet vegetal notes, smoothed out by three years in a cask.
£29.99, Master of Malt https://www.masterofmalt.com/cachaca/abelha-3-year-old-gold-organic-cachaca/
This family owned organic producer hand-harvests sugar cane and ages a fifth of the blend in oak for up to six years. Herbal, floral with fresh sweet citrus notes.
BOX OUT: Garincha – Brazil’s Most Famous Cachaca Drinker
If Pele is Brazil’s most famous footballer, Garrincha is the most loved.
Manuel Francisco dos Santos was born in 1933 with a deformed spine, a bent left leg two inches shorter than his right, which bent the other way. His wonky gait and slim frame, resembling that of a small bird, earned him his nickname: ‘Garrincha’, meaning the wren.
Also known as the Anjo de Pernas Tortas (Angel with Bent Legs), Garrincha was one of the most incredible, unpredictable and exciting footballers in the world, a wizard of the dribble who brutalised full-backs for fun.
While wearing Brazil’s canary-coloured shirt, he scored 34 goals and won two World Cups in 1958 and 1962. Yet his career, like so many flawed footballing geniuses, was undermined by the Brazilian’s off-pitch Bacchanalian lifestyle.
Garrincha was certainly not a man who needed one of Pele’s little blue pills. He lost his virginity to a goat at the age of 14 and regularly got his wonky leg over, bedding hundreds of women, fathering 14 children and having numerous affairs with glamorous Brazilian showgirls.
He liked a drink too. Far too much if truth be told. He accidentally killed his mother-in-law in a drunken car crash and regularly drank Cachaca for breakfast. Don’t do any of that. Instead, have some in a Caipirinha.
15ml Sugar Syrup
Take a lime and muddle it at the bottom of a sturdy rocks glass, getting all the oils out and the juice too. Then pour the Cachaca into the glass along with the sugar syrup, top up with crushed ice (or cubed if you want to be truly Brazilian) and give it a stir.
Best drunk using straws.
The Thinking Drinkers Spirits Subscription Club rolled out earlier this year with members receiving a copy of The Thinker Drinkers Almanac alongside a monthly delivery of three specially selected libations, brought to life through Tom and Ben’s exclusive online tastings. For more information on the book, the shows and the subscription box, visit www.thinkingdrinkers.com.