A beginner's guide to cachaça

The ideal rum replacement, cachaça is best known as a cocktail ingredient — but it can be just as good for sipping.

By Zane Henry
Published 20 May 2021, 10:40 BST, Updated 15 Jun 2021, 14:20 BST
Nothing beats drinking cachaça at a beach car such as this one in Conceicao, Brazil.

Nothing beats drinking cachaça at a beach car such as this one in Conceicao, Brazil.

Photograph by Michele Falzone

What it is?

Cachaça — fun to say (ka-sha-sa) and even more to fun to drink — is a variety of rum that’s tied to Brazilian culture and cuisine. And while rum can be made from molasses, raw sugar or anything in between, anywhere in the world, cachaça is made in Brazil exclusively from fresh sugarcane juice. The result is a fiery combination of fruity, spicy and sweet flavours with a bright, sparkly aroma.

White or golden?

White cachaça is usually bottled immediately after distillation and blended to achieve a smoother flavour profile. It’s typically cheaper and best suited to mixed drinks. Golden cachaça is aged in wooden barrels for anything from three to 15 years. This is the stuff to sip, taking in notes of caramel, vanilla and cinnamon. One of golden cachaça’s most interesting attributes is it’s the only spirit aged in barrels made using native Brazilian woods such as amburana, jequitiba and balsam. With up to 60% of an aged spirit’s aroma and flavour coming from the wood it rests in, the unique profiles conjured by these barrels can be dramatic.

How to drink it

If you’ve ever had cachaça, chances are it was in a caipirinha. The national drink of Brazil, this cocktail showcases cachaça while adding complementary flavours. Comprising only lime, sugar, ice and cachaça, it’s simple but satisfying. The art lies in the construction: while crushed ice is most often used outside of Brazil, locals prefer ice cubes. The caipirinha isn’t the only option, though — cachaça can be used as a substitute in most rum-based cocktails, from daiquiris to tiki drinks.

Where to start

For something super-simple, cachaça is great with cola or lemonade and a squeeze of lime. If you’d like to sip it, try a small-batch bottle such as the three-year-aged Novo Fogo. It’s rested in a combination of Brazilian amburana and American oak barrels for a smooth mouthfeel with hints of caramel and mango. 

Find a bar with a decent rum collection and discover their cachaça concoctions.

Photograph by Wonderhatch

The best bars for cachaça cocktails 

1. Artesian, London
This bar at the Langham Hotel (pictured) hosts one of the biggest rum selections in London, as well as a number of excellent cachaças.

2. Leyenda, New York
The menu at this buzzy pan-Latin bar features the frozen Candy Striper, with cachaça, coconut, vanilla, maple, lime, peppermint and cardamom.

3. D.O.M., São Paulo
Chef Alex Atala’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant is home to one of Brazil’s best bars, which serves great cachaça creations.

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Published in issue 11 (summer 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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