Today, June 12th, is International Cachaca Day and in preparation for this occasion we popped along to Jacob Briars’ Leblon Cachaca session at Red Bar in Soho last week to find out what all this Cachaca fuss is about.
The afternoon started with Jacob behind the bar handing out his take on the Brazilian national drink, the Caipirinha (recipe below and don’t think you know it, he has put his own twist on it) before we sat down for the session and some tastings.
Now a lot of you out there will know Jacob as the Vodka Professor and I am sure many of you will have been to his 42Below sessions before. With his move to Leblon I am delighted to tell you that his style has not changed, even if the subject matter has.
The session was informal, educational and as unbiased as it is possible to get when a brand is paying for you to jet around the world passing on knowledge.
We started with a look at the history of Cachaca and it became rapidly apparent that there is a gap in the knowledge of a lot of the trade when it comes to this history packed spirit.
First up is that despite is having strong links to rum (and indeed a lot of countries still have to sell it as rum) it out sells rum worldwide by a ratio of 2:1 and is about 100 years older.
So what is the difference between Cachaca, Rum and Rhum Agricole? Well at their base they all come from sugar cane but how they approach this is the first difference.
Rum is made from Molasses (or the bi-product of sugar cane production) whereas Rhum Agricole and Cachaca are both made from sugar cane juice which leads a lot of people to see them as very similar products. However where Rhum Agricole cooks this juice to intensify the sugar flavours, Cachaca uses the sugar cane juice fresh which is left to ferment then distilled.
Of course there are other differences such as where it is made (Cahchaca has to be made in Brazil) and in most cases the ABV level it is distilled to (Rhum Agricole 70% and Cachaca 48%).
Cachaca’s history dates back all the way to 1532 when the first were made Copper Pot stills and in a very traditional method which remained unchanged up until the early 1950’s making it one of the most rustic spirits for hundreds of years.
In the 1950’s the first continuous stills made their way to Brazil and became hugely popular. What does hugely popular mean? Well right now Brazil makes 1.6 billion litres of Cachaca a year, making it the third biggest spirit in the world, of which only 2% is exported.
If you, like us, have tasted some awful Cachaca’s in your time there is a reason for this, whilst Mexico has many rules and regulations on the production of Tequila written in law Brazil haven’t got there – in fact there are more rules on how a Caipirinha can be made than how Cachaca can be made.
It really just has to be made from sugar cane and in Brazil, there are no age statements and no distinction legally between what is known as Industrial and Alembique (which are made in Copper Pot Stills).
A lot of Cachaca manufacturers buy in their sugar cane or indeed buy in pre-made Cachaca from locals rectify it and off they go (much like some vodkas). You are also allowed to add up to 6 grams of sugar per litre of Cachaca to make it taste ‘better’.
To add to this Cachaca can’t be distilled any higher than 48%, it can be distilled multiple times but never any higher than 48%. So unlike almost every other spirit which can be distilled up to 96.8% to help get rid of the impurities if Cachaca starts bad it has nowhere to hide. Considering all these factors it is no wonder there are some awful brands out there.
Brazil is also one of the few sugar cane producing nations left which still largely uses traditional hand cutting techniques to harvest the sugar cane as opposed to the machine method most countries now use. The history of this is unfortunately wrapped heavily in slavery as Brazil not only bought more slaves than America during the dark years but was also one of the last countries to outlaw it.
These days the people hand cutting the sugar cane get paid approx. $17 a day however it is still one of the worst jobs on the planet. The question of why this hand cutting is the preferred method comes down to the fact that the machines rip the sugar cane up from the roots meaning that soil and bugs can get into the process whereas the hand cutting method gets rid of these impurities.
Leblon itself as well as being a Cachaca is also a beach in Rio which was settled by a French farmer called Charles Leblon. The reason for this is that it is a Brazilian spirit with a touch of France, produced by a Cognac distiller using a Cognac level of production with brand new copper pot stills (the whole distillery is only 6 years old).
They also own or have long term deals with their sugar cane producers. When sugar cane is cut it starts to die in fact you have just 24 hours before it is useless, Leblon ensure this turnaround is actually only 3 hours.
The fermentation runs for 16 hours and then is put into the copper stills and aged for at least 19 days in Old Cognac Barrels. All of this produces an excellent Cachaca which is growing in popularity at a rapid rate.
Of course if you say Cachaca most people automatically think Caipirinha in much the same way that 10 years ago if you said Tequila people thought Margarita. In the same way that it took education on Tequila to get bartenders coming up with new ideas and indeed falling in love with the category it is Jacobs belief that education and experimentation can do the same for Cachaca.
With Jacob joining John Gakuru in the world of Cachaca education and Leblon coming alongside Sagatiba to help push the category it surely is time for this little understood and history rich spirit to make its mark on the bartending scene. So happy Cachaca day folks, grab yourself a bottle and have some fun with it, get in that Brazilian spirit.
Jacobs Leblon Caipirinha
- 60ml Leblon Cachaca
- 30ml Sugar Syrup
- 1 whole lime, in wedges with the white centre removed
In a Boston glass muddle limes and simple syrup. Add Leblon and cubed or cracked ice and shake vigorously. Pour all into a Rocks glass, top with a little crushed ice, and serve.
This is Jacob’s version which may not look the most authentic but there is reason behind the man’s method. In his own words he has ‘drunk more Caipirinha’s over the last few months than is good for me’ and many variations in that period (‘much like asking an Italian how they make Risotto varies across the whole of Italy, so does asking a Brazilian how they make a Caipirinha’).
After much experimentation this is Jacob’s favourite for the main reason that it tastes as good with the first sip as it does with the last unlike the ‘traditional’ style which can be like having three different drinks.
The simple syrup and shaking may make Ronaldinho fall over dramatically but this does give that consistent drink and the shaking doesn’t take any longer than the traditional muddle (Jacob has timed it!). Finally the crushed ice on top – well that just looks good…