Ask the bartender: What's cachaça? And what do you do with it?

Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll answer your questions.

Q. What the hell is cachaça? I've seen it a shit-ton lately, and tonight I asked a bartender what it was, and the dumb fuck couldn't tell me. So I ordered whiskey. And how the hell do you say it? That fancy C with a squiggly thing confuses me. I figured I could look it up on the interweb, but it's way more fun to ask you. Get to work. -- Brian

A. First, Brian, let's get you saying it correctly. Cachaça is pronounced ka-SHA-sa; that "fancy C with a squiggly thing" is called a cedilla and softens the pronunciation of the letter c to that of an s.

Cachaça is a sugarcane spirit that is exclusively produced in Brazil. As a sugarcane spirit, it's technically classified as a rum. But cachaça is different from most other rums because it can only be made with fresh-pressed cane juice rather than molasses or flake sugar. (Rhum Agricole from Martinique is the only other rum category that insists on fresh cane juice.) The result (when made well) is a rich, mellow and spicy spirit.

There are several brands of cachaça on the market, in a wide array of qualities. Many are craft-distilled and artisanally made, but there are several industrial firewater brands that are probably more suited to fuel your car than entice your palate. A good way to test the quality of a cachaça is to shake the bottle; the resulting bubbles and froth should dissipate quickly (within thirty seconds); the longer the bubbles remain, the more impurities exist.

My favorite brand, Boca Loca, is owned by a Denver woman, Rhonda Follrath. Boca Loca is a beautiful spirit with a light floral aroma, notes of pineapple and citrus and a slightly sweet finish. Other quality cachaças on the market include Mae de Ouro, Cabana and Leblon.

Cachaça is the principal ingredient in the national drink of Brazil, the Caipirinha (I'll cut you off at the pass, Brian: it's pronounced cai-purr-EEN-ya), a simple but sublime drink made with fresh lime and granulated sugar. But it is also a versatile spirit that works well in many styles of cocktails. One of the ways I love to enjoy it is to replace the gin in a classic Negroni with cachaça.

So take a break from your winter cocktails and try a Caipirinha. It will be like a mini-vacation. Here are a few recipes to try out:

Caipirinha (traditional)

2 oz. cachaça (Boca Loca) 1.5 barspoons of sugar ½ lime, quartered

In a mixing glass, add the limes and sugar. Muddle. Add ice and cachaça. Shake. Pour the contents of the mixing glass into a rock glass and serve.

*Note: Granulated sugar is key to extacting the essential oils from the skin of the lime. In Brazil, they would never use simple syrup.

Strawberry Ginger Caipirinha 1.5 oz. cachaça (Boca Loca)

.5 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur

3/8 lime (cut a lime into eighths, use 3)

1 medium strawberry, quartered

In a mixing glass, add the limes and strawberry. Muddle. Add ice and cachaça. Shake. Pour the contents of the mixing glass into a rock glass and serve.

Brazilian Negroni

1 oz. cachaça (Boca Loca)

1 oz. Aperol

1 oz. sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)

Add all ingredients in a mixing glass, stir with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or a rocks glass over fresh ice. Express lemon peel over the cocktail and drop in to garnish.


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