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Archive for February, 2009

Caipirinha – Carioca for a Week

Posted by Reese On February - 28 - 2009

Sipping a Caipirinha truly makes you feel like a Brazilian, if only for a short time.  The fresh lime flavor, sweetness and grassy flavor of the cachaça meld in to a truly wonderful drink.  The flavor is extremely refreshing, not unlike a slightly alcoholic limeade.  Not to mention these drinks are exceedingly drinkable.  That said, as I discussed earlier in the week muddling this drink really is key to the flavor profile.  As is granulated sugar rather than simple syrup.  The muddling action extracts some of the oils from the lime peel which are then infused into the resulting cocktail.  This changes the drink in the same way that a flamed orange peel or a lemon twist.

Caipirinha

So, what about the choice of sugar?  I began my week using plain white sugar which worked very well.  Feeling that I might be able to change it up a bit I tried using demerara instead.  This helped to deepen the natural sugar flavors that the cachaça brings to the party.  There is one downside to this choice though.  Since the demerara sugar adds additional flavor it can mask subtle flavors in the cachaça.  So, given that I’d say give it a try but make sure you choose a cachaça with a bold enough flavor to stand up to the demerara.

Although there are a few recipes for the Caipirinha floating around most of them seem to follow the same general formula.  Namely: 1 oz cachaca, 1/4 lime (cut in to two wedges), and 1 tsp sugar.  Some recipes, Gary Regan’s for example, call for three ounces of cachaça.  That’s going to make for a pretty hefty cocktail and since these go down very easy it could get out of hand pretty quickly.  With that in mind my suggested recipe cuts back the cachaça to only two ounces, but keeps the formula the same.  I highly suggest you mix one up and enjoy the carioca life.  Even if it is fleeting.

Caipirinha (Cocktail Hacker)
2 oz Cachaça
1/2 Lime (4 wedges)
2 tsp Sugar
1) Muddle lime and sugar until sugar is dissolved
2) Add cachaça and cracked ice
3) Stir until well combined

Cachaça – Brazilian Rum?

Posted by Reese On February - 28 - 2009

You’ll note that on every bottle of cachaça you buy in the US there is a sublabel listing it as Brazilian Rum.  It’s not a coincidence or marketing gimmick.  Rather this is a requirement of the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  The TTB in their own words defines a rum as:

Spirits distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane by-products at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)

In addition the TTB requires that every bottle of alcohol sold in this country be labeled with, among other things, the class and type designation of the spirit.  Which means , to the dismay of the producers, that although cachaça is distinct from rum it must be labeled as such to be sold here.  So, now that you have some background on why it’s labeled as rum, let’s discuss why it’s not rum at all.

Cachaça is a spirit produced from fermented sugar cane juice where as most rum is produced from fermented molasses instead.  Like rum the distillation process for cachaça varies from producer to producer, but there is another interesting wrinkle in the production process that sets cachaça apart.  Legally additional sugar can be added to the final spirit to alter the flavor profile.  Namely, up to six grams of sugar per liter can be added to the product without declaring on the label.  Camper English, in this interesting post about cachaça, goes on to note that if the producer adds between six and fifteen grams of sugar per liter the cachaça is now referred to as sweet cachaça or cachaça adocada.  This is an interesting tidbit to be sure as it explains some of the differing flavor profiles we experienced in our tasting.

There are lots of other interesting facts about cachaça.  For example Brazilians consume the equivalent of eight liters per person yearly and cachaça is the number three most distilled spirit in the world behind vodka and soju.  If you’re interested in reading up on some more fact this page on the American University web site has some good info and goes in to moderate detail about the history of the spirit as well.

Before getting started this week I’d certainly heard of cachaça in the past and read some comments about it.  I even had a bottle in my collection, but always thought of it simply as another kind of rum.  So I went to work educating myself.  I did some reading about cachaça’s history, read up on fellow bloggers comments and took a look at the brands available.  Once I felt slightly more well informed I did what any good cocktail fan does, I invited some friends over for a cachaça tasting.

Nearly everyone at the tasting had never had cachaça before so this was an educational and entertaining experience for us all.  Our process was dead simple.  I gave everyone a small bit of each cachaça one at a time and we sipped and commented.  I frantically wrote down the thoughts and present those results here for your enjoyment.

Pitu
Pitu Cachaca The first thing you’ll note about Pitu is its warm, buttery fruit aroma.  Following that initial sniff you’ll start to pick up the vegetal notes that are common of both cachaça and rhum agricole.  The flavor echoes the vegetal characteristics and buttery notes from the aroma and adds a very subtle wood aged flavor.  Ted wasn’t fond of the wood flavors, but that’s not particularly suprising as he generally doesn’t like wood aged spirits at all.  The rest of us found it quite pleasant though.  In tasting this cachaça you’ll also note it’s drier than some of the others you’ll come across, about the level of a white rum.  Overall a good cachaça and very affordable.  If this is the only cachaça available in your area you won’t be disappointed.
Boca Loca
Boca Loca Cachaca Boca Loca was up next on the docket.  The first thing you’ll notice about the aroma of this cachaça is additional sweetness.  You’ll get some of the same buttery notes in the aroma but less of the vegetal qualities.  The flavor, not surprisingly, echoes both the aroma.  You get a subtle, pleasant sweetness that comes through as well as a nice butterscotch/caramel flavor.  Overall this cachaça has a much more mild flavor and, as one of the tasters put it, “you can tell it’s going to be friendlier to you.”  Of the five cachaças we tasted this was our second favorite.  Because of the milder, less funky flavor this would be a great cachaça to introduce people to the spirit.  This brand is also very affordable and is certainly worth picking up if you’re looking to make some caipirinhas.
Ypioca Crystal
Ypioca Cachaca Crystal Next up was a bottle of Ypioca Crystal that my cousin brought back from a trip to Mexico.  Since this bottle was purchased at a duty free store you’ll note there is no “Brazilian Rum” category on the bottle.  Just an interesting tid bit.  This cachaça had a very unique fruit aroma, specifically that of a granny smith apple.  The fruitiness isn’t as aparent in the flavor, rather you get a bit of initial harshness that fades in the aftertaste.  Not an unpleasant cachaça, but also not our favorite of the evening.
Cabana
Cabana Cachaca Cabana is a bit of the odd man out in this tasting for a couple of reasons.  First it bills itself as authentically Brasilian which has peeved some natives as, although the spirit is produced in Sao Paulo, the company is owned and managed from NYC by a former employee of JP Morgan.  Second, Cabana bills itself as an ultra premium cachaça and to that end employs a double distillation process.  You’ll immediately pick up the extra distillation in the aroma or lack there-of.  Colton, who had just arrived as we were pouring the Cabana, commented that it “smells like liquor.”  Which, although humorous on the surface, is actually quite true.  You pick up very faint grass notes in the aroma, but that’s about it.  The flavor is similar to that of a vodka.  Overall we didn’t much like this cachaça and at the high end of the cost scale (~$35) I would say it’s not worth it.
Leblon
Leblon Cachaca Leblon was our final cachaça for the night and the crowd favorite.  In the aroma the buttery notes are more subdued and the grass is more forward with this one.  In addition you’ll pick up additional fruit smells peeking through.  Ted described the aroma as reminding him of corn candy which, if you’re not familiar with it, is sweet corn flavored hard candy you can find in asian markets.  There is a subtle golden hue to the spirit which likely comes as a result of the short aging in brandy barrels.  The flavor is more complex than the others hitting on the fruity and grassy notes picked up in the aroma.  Finally, you don’t get the same aftertaste that you do with the Pitu, Ypioca and Cabana.  In summary, this is my cachaça of choice for a caipirinha as it adds a great level of complexity.  It’s a bit pricier than some of the others, but I think the additional cost is well worth it.

So, now you at least have enough information about cachaça to talk intelligently at a dinner party and I certainly hope our tasting has given you some guidance on what brands to keep an eye out for.  If, however, you’re a skimmer and would prefer not to read this whole post, let me give you the two second summary.  Cachaça although labeled rum in the US is most certainly a different beast.  If you’re looking for your first bottle to add to your home bar try Boca Loca or Leblon.  Boca Loca is going to give you a more mellow, slightly sweeter flavor and the Leblon is going to be more complex and slightly more expensive.  You won’t be disappointed with either.

So there you have it.  Go forth and imbibe.

Muddle or Shake?

Posted by Reese On February - 25 - 2009

The question has plagued mankind since the development of the Caipirinha.  Should one muddle the cocktail or shake?  It’s the kind of question fights have been started over.  Well, I couldn’t let this dilemma go unsolved any longer.  So I mixed up a Caipirinha show down for the benefit of all of us.

Muddle or Shake?

Caipirinha (Shaken)
2 oz Cachaça (Leblon)
1 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Rich Simple Syrup
Caipirinha (Muddled)
1/2 Lime cut in Wedges
2 tsp Sugar
2 oz Cachaça (Leblon)

The verdict is a bit of a hard one.  Both of these varients have their pluses and minuses.  Certainly both are very tasty and I definitely wouldn’t turn either down.

Shaken

Pro – Very simple to mix in batches ahead of time or in large quantities
Pro – Tremendously drinkable
Con – Sourness of the lime covered by simple syrup
Con – Subtleties of the cachaça are lost

Muddled

Pro – Classic recipe
Pro – Bitterness from peel and oils adds to flavor
Pro – Much more complex flavor
Pro – More interesting presentation
Pro – Cachaça flavor comes through more
Con – Longer prep
Con – Requires muddler
Con – Need fresh limes

Okay, those last two cons for the muddled recipe are both a stretch.  You can use damn near anything blunt as a muddler and I’d certainly hope you were buying fresh limes for this drink anyway.  So, the final verdict?  Make the muddled version unless you’re either making them by the pitcher full or mixing tons and tons of them for a party.

Still worried that you can’t make this drink due to a lack of muddler?  Fear not.  The good folks at Leblon Cachaça will happily send you a muddler for only the cost of shipping ($2.00).  I used mine to make the drink you see pictured above.  You can pick yours up right here.

Carnaval!

Posted by Reese On February - 24 - 2009

Today is the day folks.  Whether you think of it as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shove Tuesday, Pancake Day or, as the Brazilians know it, Carnaval, today is a day to celebrate.  For you Catholics out there today marks the last day before the beginning of Lent.  Lent refers to both the 40 day period prior to Easter Sunday and the tradition of fasting from certain foods or practices.  In the US you’ll find most people practicing Lent by giving up a food they love, typically junk food.  My Grandpa Lloyd for example would always give up watermelon for Lent.  Which worked out particularly well for him since you generally couldn’t get it during Lent anyway.

Photo Copyright Raquel Teixeira

Photo Copyright Raquel Teixeira

But, I’m not here to talk about Lent.  I’m here to talk a very small bit about Carnaval.  No, it’s not spelled wrong.  Carnaval is the correct Portuguese spelling of Carnival and is probably the most well known event in Brazil.  Carnaval consists of a number of days worth of partying, dancing and parading culminating the four days before Ash Wednesday.  Groups will congregate and form blocos which assemble and then parade throughout the city.  In Rio de Janeiro you get the addition of the local Samba schools who compete in the four night Sambadrome.  Which, never have been to Carnaval I can only assume is very similar to Thunderdome.  That’s probably not true at all, but it would be awesome.

If you’re looking for a party but sadly don’t have decorations to make it happen head on over to Leblon’s website and pick up your very own Leblon Carnaval Kit.  The kit comes complete with masks, beads, glow sticks, and even a music CD to put your party in the right mood.  Add to that some Caipirinhas and you’ll be set for a night of partying.

In honor of Carnaval and Mardi Gras tonight I’m hosting a cachaça tasting at my house complete with homemade gumbo in true New Orleans style.  I’ll be posting the results later in the week.

Caipirinha

Posted by Reese On February - 22 - 2009

This week, and specifically Tuesday, is Carnaval in Brazil and to celebrate I’m featuring Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha.  The Caipirinha [KIE-PEE-REEN-YAH] is a fairly simple drink consisting of only cachaça [KA-SHA-SA], limes and sugar muddled together to create what Gary Regan lovingly refers to as “an elixir.”  Sounds fantastic to me, sign me up.

I’m going to keep this intro post a bit on the short side this time as I plan to put up detail posts on Carnaval, cachaça and the results of our cachaça tasting as the week goes on.  So stay tuned and here’s a Caipirinha recipe to get you in the right frame of mind.

Caipirinha (Joy of Mixology)
4 to 6 Lime Wedges
1 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
3 oz Cachaça
1) Muddle the limes and sugar in an old fashioned glass.
2) Add crushed ice and cachaça.
3) Stir thoroughly.