All eyes are on Brazil this summer for the World Cup—but whether or not you’re rooting for Brazil (and hey, whether you couldn’t care less about soccer), we’d encourage you to get to know the country’s national spirit: cachaça. (We’ll sound that out for you: KUH-sha-sah. Not that hard, right?)
Made from sugarcane, cachaça is in some ways similar to rum, though it has the vegetal, slightly grassy taste you might associate with a good tequila. And while Americans might have crossed paths with the caipirinha—the classic cachaça cocktail, with just ice, sugar and lime—it turns out the spirit is an awful lot more versatile.
Like any liquor, cachaça comes in a range of styles: aged or unaged, refined or much less so. We’re working with a new artisanal brand, Avuá Cachaça Prata (silver). Since they are made from sugarcane, some cachaças can feel syrupy or taste cloyingly sweet. Avuá, on the other hand, has the complexity of fresh sugarcane, and finishes dry, making it much easier to mix with.
As classic as it gets. Caipirinhas are a simple cocktail, but that just means the particular cachaça you’re using makes a huge difference; you’ll see any old bottom-shelf cachaça in many caipirinhas, but a premium product like Avuá really pays off here.
While the classic recipe uses granulated sugar, we prefer simple syrup: It dissolves more easily, so you don’t get those gritty leftovers in the bottom. An optional dash of Angostura bitters adds depth and complexity.
Instructions: Cut a lime in half lengthwise, then cut one of the halves into quarters. Drop those 4 wedges into the bottom of a glass alongside ½ ounce of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). Muddle that all up good and hard. Add 2 ounces of cachaça and ice to fill. Fit the top half of a cocktail shaker on top of your glass, give it four strong back-and-forth shakes, place the shaker on the bar and remove your glass. Pour the drink (ice, limes and all) back into the glass and add a dash of Angostura.
Intermediate: Cachaça Manhattan
We’ve had many a caipirinha in our day (and hope for many more in our future). But as we hope you’ll learn, cachaça is no one-trick pony. Here, we’re swapping it in for the bourbon or rye in a Manhattan. The herbal qualities of our favorite sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica) echo the grassy notes of cachaça, and the finished cocktail perfectly straddles sweet and dry. A lime twist over the top reminds us of cachaça’s traditional partner, and gives you a wholly different Manhattan experience.
Instructions: Combine 2 ounces of cachaça, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Give that a good, long stir, then strain it into a coupe. Take a good, thick lime peel and give it a twist on top, to spray fragrant lime oils all over the drink.
Advanced: Capricorn Collins
Thanks to Brazil’s tropical location, cachaça often gets paired with tropical fruits. Don’t get us wrong, excellent cocktails can result: There’s nothing wrong with a passion fruit caipirinha. But here we’re going in a different tropical direction—over to Southeast Asia, with ginger and lemongrass. Refreshing as a drink can get, this cocktail will stand up to any summer heat. It’s great for one or by the pitcher—just multiply the recipe by six or eight, give it a long stir instead of shaking, and add extra lemongrass, ginger slices and lemon wheels as garnish.
Instructions: Take a peeled slice of ginger—around the size of your thumbprint, and about ¼ inch thick—and add it to the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Cut a 2-inch chunk of lemongrass, cut it into a few pieces and add it to the shaker. Muddle that all together, good and hard. Then add ½ ounce of simple syrup, ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1½ ounces of cachaça. Shake that all vigorously; double-strain (through a fine mesh strainer) into a tall collins glass with fresh ice and top with 1 ounce of club soda. For the best garnish, take another tall segment of lemongrass, cut it in half lengthwise to release its aromatics, and drop that in your glass.