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While rum seems to be getting more popular every year, its Brazilian cousin cachaça has not quite reached the same levels of renown, particularly here in the US. There are some excellent bottles out there that are widely available, and many are a favorite among bartenders in the know who are working hard to familiarize the public with this indigenous Brazilian spirit distilled from sugarcane juice.
The most famous cachaça cocktail is the Caipirinha, which combines the vegetal, funky, earthy, and fruity notes of the spirit with lime and sugar. From unaged cachaça to expressions that spend a few years in various types of wood barrels, there are so many versions to taste. Here are some of the best cachaças you can find now, with some picks from bar industry experts.
Best Overall: Novo Fogo Tanager
Region: Brazil | ABV: 42% | Tasting Notes: Tropical fruit, Grass, Citrus
“Novo Fogo Tanager is exceptionalism in a bottle,” says Gregory Rodriguez of Jammyland Cocktail Bar & Reggae Kitchen in Las Vegas. “All the work done in one of the most sustainable distilleries in the world is showcased in this cachaça. It has engaging fruit flavors with a sidecar of ginger snap, and is rich and velvety. Neat or on the rocks, it’s the perfect accompaniment for a late-night cigar.”
This cachaça is notable for its reddish color which comes from time spent aging in Brazilian zebrawood barrels.
Best Splurge: Avuá Amburana
Region: Brazil | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Spice, Sugarcane
"In my opinion, Avuá is definitely the best,” says Jose Gill, lead bartender at American Social in Miami. “They have several different [expressions], from original to different barrel-aged versions, which I believe gives you so many options when creating a cocktail.”
The range of this brand (which is led by one of the few women distillers in Brazil, (Katia Espírito Santo) includes some higher-priced bottles that are worth spending some extra money to try, like Amburana which spends time in barrels made of this indigenous Latin American wood.
"One of my favorite sipping cachaças is the Avuá Amburana. The unusual savory qualities that the indigenous wood imparts on this spirit makes for a rich, spicy sipper, unlike any other cachaça I've tried." — Prairie Rose, Editor
Best Budget: Pitu Silver
Region: Brazil | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Banana, Flower, Lemon
Don’t let the low cost of this cachaça fool you; the quality soars way beyond its price tag. Pitú, named after the prawn that populates the river of the same name near the distillery, has been around since the 1930s. The silver expression is a classic example of this sugarcane spirit, bright and crisp with notes of green apple and tropical fruit. You can also find it used in Pitú Cola in Brazil, a Brazilian canned beverage which you can easily replicate at home.
Related: The Best Rums to Drink
Best Single Barrel: Novo Fogo Single Barrel 136
Region: Brazil | ABV: 41% | Tasting Notes: Butterscotch, Toast, Tropical fruit
Novo Fogo has many different single barrel expressions available, meaning the cachaça in the bottle comes from just one barrel that it’s been aged in instead of a blend of different casks. One to look out for is Barrel 136. This is a five-year-old cachaça that spent its entire time aging in an American oak ex-bourbon barrel that was re-toasted. This is definitely a cachaça for sipping, but if you are so inclined go ahead and try making a cocktail that might traditionally use whiskey, like an Old Fashioned, and see how the flavors work.
Best for a Caipirinha: Leblon
Region: Brazil | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Almond, Toast
Leblon is made at Maison Leblon, a distillery dedicated to producing really high-quality cachaça to showcase the diverse flavor profile of this Brazilian spirit.
“Leblon is the go-to for a quick Caipirinha by the pool, the beach, or on a boat,” says Rodriguez. “The fresh sugarcane taste, backed by the funky “Hogo,” is intertwined with lime and sugar to create a lovely refreshing cocktail that everybody can quench their thirst.” This is a relatively new product having been founded in 2005, but already the brand is leading the way in this growing category.
Related: The Best Muddlers
Best Aged: Espirito XVI Dourado
Region: Brazil | ABV: 47% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Honey, Smoke
This cachaça has been aged for two years in Brazilian balsamo wood, which the brand says is difficult to work with but is full of aromatic oils that imbue the spirit with flavor. Espirito XVI Dourado is also bottled at a higher ABV than other comparable bottles, adding depth of flavor and a dose of smoke to the palate. There are many other aged expressions of cachaça out there, but this one is definitely worth seeking out for the unique wood used by the distillery.
Best Sipping: Capucana
Region: Brazil | ABV: 42% | Tasting Notes: Raw grass, Honey, Leather
This cachaça is made from a blend of nine different types of sugarcane. Once distilled, the spirit is matured in ex-bourbon barrels that found a second life aging peated single malt whisky In Islay, Scotland, which injects a bit of smoke into the mix of flavors on the palate. This is truly a sipping cachaça, neat or perhaps on ice, meant to sip and savor rather than mixing into a cocktail.
Related: The Best Cocktail Shakers
Best for Cocktails: Yaguara Cachaça
Region: Brazil | ABV: 40.5% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Banana, Vanilla
This organic white cachaça is rested in stainless steel for eight months before being bottled, allowing it to “breathe” according to the brand. Yaguara was founded in 2013, but the family behind the spirit has been involved in making cachaça for decades. Try this one in a wide variety of cocktails— make a highball with ginger ale, mix with cold brew coffee and vermouth for a take on a Manhattan, or try combining it with coconut water and a little bit of honey.
There are many cachaças to choose from, but the best option is Novo Fogo Tanager (view at Drizly). This distillery is admirably focused on sustainability and produces truly excellent spirits using organic ingredients. This particular expression is aged for a second time in Brazilian zebrawood, which gives the spirit a rich flavor and subtle earthiness. Sip this on its own, or try it in a cocktail.
How is cachaça made, and what is it made from?
Cachaça is a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane juice. The sugarcane is harvested and pressed. This yields juice that is fermented by adding yeast, resulting in a low ABV wine that is distilled into a high-proof spirit. Silver, or unaged, cachaça is often rested in stainless steel to mellow the flavors, while aged expressions spend a few years in various types of oak, from used bourbon barrels to ones made from indigenous wood.
How is it different from rum?
While cachaça is made from sugarcane juice, most rum is made from molasses. The closest relative to cachaça would be rhum agricole which is also made from sugarcane juice in a few specific countries. Also, aged rum is mostly put into ex-bourbon barrels (although sherry casks and other fortified wine barrels are sometimes used), while cachaça is also aged in a variety of native Brazilian wood.
Is it made outside of Brazil?
Cachaça can only be made in Brazil.
What's the best way to drink it?
Cachaça can be great sipped on its own, neat or on the rocks, especially the aged expressions. But it’s also a staple of cocktail culture, and is synonymous with the Caipirinha, a drink made by combining cachaça, lime, and sugar.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.
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