The Caipirinha may be the first thing that comes to mind when bartenders and mixologists think of cachaça, but the feisty Brazilian spirit offers opportunities to concoct cocktails beyond that traditional favorite. To learn more, Nightclub & Bar checked in with Tony Abou-Ganim, The Modern Mixologist.
NCB: What should be known about cachaça when approaching it as a cocktail ingredient?
Abou-Ganim: Perhaps most important thing is that cachaça is a category of spirit. It’s often referred to even on cachaca bottles as Brazilian rum, but it’s its own spirit. You need to grasp that it’s the national spirit of Brazil, it’s the third most consumed spirit in the world — behind vodka and sochu — and is produced from fresh pressed cane. Oh, and we need to make sure guests can pronounce cachaça and Caipirinha, which means we need to be able to pronounce them correctly.
NCB: What does cachaça bring to a cocktail?
Abou-Ganim: Artisanal styles, like Leblon or Cabana, are more refined spirits. Not to take away from the more industrial styles like P51 and Pitu, but you get more delicate notes of the terroir with artisanal: tropical fruits, spice and honey, with the alcohol supporting without being forward. There are grassy, floral, hibiscus, honey, citrus, peels going on. These artisanal cachaças showcase the master distiller’s art of using several different woods unique to Brazil to age the spirit and alembic distillation to a lower proof so the spirit retains the character of the cane. There’s a lot going on.
NCB: What are some of the dos and don’ts of working with cachaça?
Abou-Ganim: My biggest do is to keep it simple. Choose ingredients that complement the flavor of the particular cachaça. To me, with that floral, earthy element, cachaça can be both rugged and refined, masculine but gentlemanly. It lends itself to fresh, tropical fruits and an array of citrus.
You don’t want to mask it with artificial flavors, mixes and syrups. When I think of cachaça and modifiers, I think of things like Cointreau, with its bitter and orange peels, or Domaine de Canton, which will complement the earthiness, or floral liqueurs like St-Germain that complement that floral-citrus element. Parfait Amour, with its violet and vanilla, is another nice one. It’s important to think of liqueurs that will complement without overpowering.
NCB: You’ve worked with cachaça quite a bit. Any surprises for you?
Abou-Ganim: Actually, Frenet Branca with Leblon. I was playing around at Bar Milano (now Enoteca) in New York City, doing digestifs for after dinner. I made homemade bitter chocolate syrup, added heavy cream, cool espresso, Frenet Branca with a cachaça base and a sprig of rosemary. It really was a unique combination – through those other flavors, the cachaça still came through.
When you have good cachaça and it’s built as a balanced cocktail, the base spirit comes through and it’s really great.
The Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim offers two of his own cachaça recipes.
1 ½ ounce Leblon Cachaça
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce fresh tangerine juice
1 ounce homemade hibiscus syrup
Chilled soda water
Shake Leblon, hibiscus syrup, fresh lemon and tangerine juices; strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Spritz with chilled soda water. Stir and garnish with an edible flower.
For hibiscus syrup: Bring 2 parts water to boil, add 2 parts sugar; dissolve and add 1 part dried hibiscus flowers. Simmer for 15 minutes. Take off heat and let cool.
1 ounce cachaça
2 ounce coconut cream (Coco Lopez) *
1 ounce whole milk
¼ ounce simple syrup
1 cup cracked ice
Toasted coconut for garnish
* Place can of Coco Lopez in hot water to liquefy prior to use.
Blend ingredients with cracked ice until smooth and creamy.
Toasted coconut: Pre-heat oven to 350, place shredded coconut on cookie sheet. Toast for 10-15 until golden brown, sir occasionally.