25 Feb 2011
Like almost everyone not lucky enough to live in Leblon, cachaça was a spirit that was new to me. Growing up, I was aware of gin and whisky and wine, even if I didn’t know them as much as I would have liked. But like most people who live outside of Brasil, I had tried many Cocktails and spirits before I tried cachaca for the first time.
As someone who now makes their living from encouraging people all over the world to ‘drink better’ I’m a little chastened to admit that what first attracted me to cachaça was its price. Working in my first serious cocktail bar, we were always on the lookout for drinks that were cheap but effective, and no spirit fitted this bill like this strange, exotic liquor from this strange and exotic country, enjoyed in the Caiprinha, the national drink of Brasil.
The Caipirinha was both familiar and foreign. It had all the elements that make the Daiquiri and the Margarita so successful, that wonderful balance between sweet, sour and strong but it delivered these together with a rustic, slightly wild flavour that was missing from the more polished and widely known classics.
Like many drinkers and bartenders, I had cachaça pigeon-holed as a sort of rough and ready spirit, good for strong drinks, but not really a spirit for polite society. And yes, it’s true that there are many cachacas coming out of Brasil that are made quickly and sold cheaply. But the same is true of gin, vodka, tequila and in fact all spirits.
Just as we have seen the rise of quality, artisinal spirits among gin, vodka, tequila, so we are seeing the rise of artisanal, crafted cachaças like Leblon that deserve to be held in the same regard as great spirits from around the world.
In early 2007, I was lucky enough to visit Brasil with a dear friend Naren Young, a celebrated bartender and writer. You can see footage of our visit on this site, though much of it is not for the faint-hearted. This trip opened my eyes both to the Brasilian passion for cachaça, for the Caipirinha, and for life in general, even in the face of adversity. I also saw first-hand the craft that goes in to making each batch of Leblon Cachaça, and why I truly believe it to be one of the very finest spirits made anywhere in the world.
What has always fascinated me about spirits and cocktails, about from the obvious pleasure of enjoying them with friends, is that they give a small window into the culture of a people and the context of a country. The history of cachaça and the Caipirinha mirrors, in its own small way, the spirit of Brasil itself. Born out of the uniquely fertile Brasilian soil, and out of the utter misery of the slave trade, like Brasil itself cachaca has struggled to shake off the shackles of the past. But now, like the wonderful country, cachaça and the Caipirinha are becoming celebrated around the world.
Cachaça is a uniquely national spirit perhaps matched only by tequila. It is drunk all over the country, by all classes, both in cocktails and on its own. In the Caipirinha we have a drink that can be made anywhere, and yet transports us instantly, at least in our imagination, to Brasil and our vision of that Brasilian spirit.
The Caipirinha is a wonderful drink that deserves to be both made well and enjoyed widely, and we hope these pages will show you just how easy the Caipirinha is to make and enjoy.
But we’ll also show that to think of the cachaça as ‘just’ for the Caipirinha is to limit a versatile and wonderful spirit. Just as tequila is no longer ‘just’ for Margaritas, across Brasil, North America and around the globe, bartenders are using cachaça in new and delightful ways. We’ll make it our job both to research these new applications fully, and then report on where and when to find them so you can enjoy great Leblon cocktails in bars, restaurants, clubs and on beaches around the world.
-Professor de Cachaça, Jacob Briars