It's almost a guarantee that any trip to Brazil will be laden with the intrinsic pleasures of beachside caipirinhas. The cocktail is made with cachaça, showcasing Brazil's 500-year-old spirit of choice. Cachaça is distilled from fermented sugarcane juice, making it a cousin of rum and, more specially, of rhum agricole, or cane juice rum, though with an even longer history.
The good news is that even when you're back home there's no need to stop your newfound Brazilian love affair—we’re still talking about the cachaça! It's now readily available in the U.S., and some of the best bottles are barrel-aged using indigenous Brazilian woods that deliver entirely unique flavors.
"Cachaça as a category is aged in 30 different woods," says Peter Nevenglosky, cofounder of Avuá Cachaça. "We find the unique flavors and applications to be truly compelling and something we want to continue to share with the increasingly adventurous drinking public."
Avuá has employed amburana, also known as Brazilian teak, a wood prized for its floral and fragrant profile, alongside enticing baking spices such as cinnamon and cloves. Avuá has also used exotic woods like jequitibá rosa, with delicate fruity flavors, and tapinhoã, offering hints of honeycomb, caramel, and toasted coconut. Nevenglosky broke the scoop to Maxim that a forthcoming release, due out this summer, will be aged in bálsamo, which offers herbaceous notes, minerality, and citrus flavors.
We couldn't be celebrating the use of oft illegally forested Brazilian woods unless brands were following proper sourcing protocols, however. "Sustainability is the major question when using Brazilian woods to age cachaça," says Agenor Maccari Jr., Ph.D., master distiller of Novo Fogo Cachaça. "How can we guarantee the future supply of native woods when many of the trees are endangered?"
Novo Fogo has been proactive in this regard, carefully vetting the companies they source wood and barrels from, while also taking the extra step of creating a reforestation project, partnering with a protected 42-acre private reserve with the aim of planting 10,000 endangered trees.
"Producers of aged cachaça represent an industry that can either choose to indirectly fuel illegal deforestation by buying Brazilian wood barrels from questionable sources, or to support a more sustainable path by sourcing Brazilian woods thoughtfully and legally, and by being transparent about the potential risks posed by products that utilize vulnerable Brazilian trees," says Luke McKinley, Novo Fogo's marketing director.
For its Two-Woods series, Novo Fogo uses Brazilian woods to finish cachaças primarily matured in American oak, thereby using less Brazilian wood while also balancing the bold flavors the woods offer. "Ninety-seven percent of our barrels are American oak, and the remaining three percent are Brazilian wood barrels," Maccari says. "For us, Brazilian woods are the exception, not the rule. Each of our barrels has an origin, a history." That's resulted in occasionally unusual, though effective, tactics. "The wood for our araribá barrels came from the demolition of a partner's house!"
Releases include Colibri, refined with the aforementioned amburana, along with Tanager, inflected with that araribá (zebrawood), and Graciosa, finished with castanheira (Brazil nut). The former is resinous, earthy, and tannic, with the "personality of a forest," according to Maccari, while the latter is distinctively nutty, redolent of almonds and pecans, along with cherries and spice.
With the sustainability issue accounted for, you can enjoy guilt-free caipirinhas, though you should also, ahem, branch out. Cachaças with these types of unique flavors are great for sipping neat or pairing with beer, a tradition sometimes known as tabelinha, referring to the quick back-and-forth passing of the "beautiful game." The cocktail possibilities are endless, too, with cachaça seamlessly subbing for anything from rum to whiskey or even gin depending on its profile.
You can even put your money where your mouth is, if you want to ensure you continue seeing more such delicious offerings. Avuá, for example, is running a Wefunder online crowdfunding campaign that has already raised over $100,000 from thirsty imbibers just like you.
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