With Brazil coming into dominance on a world scale in preparation for its 2016 Olympics and World Cup hosting job, it only makes sense that some Carnival culture would find its way into our borders. But cachaça? What is exactly is that stuff? In short, it’s Brazil’s most popular distilled alcoholic beverage, a cousin of rum made from fermented sugarcane juice rather than molasses. “White”, or un-aged, it tastes like jet fuel, which is fine, but that means most enjoy it with loads of sweet or sour mixer. The drink wasn’t even legal in the U.S. until late February. (To be fair, this was simply because it wasn’t recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. But still.)
Leblon’s Maison Leblon Reserva Especial ($28), however, refines the liquor’s raw power through a two-year aging process in Limousin French Oak Barrels. It won a double gold award (something we thought only Michael Phelps was capable of) at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and we recently got a chance to sip it at our office. Our only complaints? A lack of complexity, and the fact that we weren’t on a beach in Rio while drinking it.
This “dark” cachaça is extensively mellowed, a far cry from its wild younger brother. It smells a lot like spiced rum with loads of vanilla. Sipped, there’s surprisingly little burn or spice of any kind — a drastic smoothness that we didn’t expect, given the un-aged stuff’s reputation. On the tongue there’s plenty of honey, earthiness and mellow caramel; for a finish, there’s a coating of pine nuts that lingers. We took it neat, but on the rocks we imagine it would be entirely pleasant. Those seeking a gentle, tasty change-of-pace drink should have it in mind. Limited quantities are available in the states, so get after it, homem.