By Lanee Lee, Foodable Contributor
Throughout history, bars have been incubators for all sorts of clever inventions or creative endeavors. From Southwest Airlines to the Marine Corps to Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, ideas scribbled on a cocktail napkin over a few drinks have led to great things. Avuá Cachaça — the handmade, single-estate cachaça — was no different.
Here’s how it went down...
One cold winter night in 2009, a lawyer and his two friends found themselves at Miss Favela, a Brazilian dive bar in Brooklyn. The scene — local Brazilians dancing the samba, drinking Caipirinhas and eating feijoada (a Brazilian stew) — mesmerized the trio. But it wasn’t until they tasted rounds and rounds of artisan cachaça, most only available in Brazil, that the idea to create their own was born.
After a trip to Brazil, visiting local distilleries — mostly rustic, homegrown operations in the state of Minas Gerais — they smuggled dozens of their favorites back to the States for further R&D with bartender friends.
Out of hundreds sampled, co-founders Pete Nevenglosky, Mark Christou and lawyer Nate Whitehouse finally decided on their distiller. Much to the surprise of the Brazilian cachaça community, they chose a woman.
Katia Espírito Santo, one of the few female distillers in the entire country, produces the two expressions from sugarcane grown on her family farm in Carmo, several hours north of Rio de Janero.
Avuá Prata, rested in stainless steel casks for six months, is bright and grassy — ideal for cocktails.
“Because it’s Paraty style (sugarcane grown in the lowlands), Prata’s vegetal flavors work well in any gin cocktail, say like a negroni or gimlet,” explains Whitehouse.
In contrast, Avuá Amburana, aged in amburan (native Brazilian tree) casks for up to two years, is sultry and soulfully spicy — perfect for sipping neat or in classic brown spirit cocktail recipes.
Distilled in copper stills much like Cognac, Avuá reflects its maker with feminine qualities that result in a smooth, soft finish.
What is Cachaça?
With Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup, cachaça — the long misunderstood, mislabeled spirit — is poised to explode on the U.S. cocktail scene. For years, the U.S. government categorized it simply as “Brazilian rum.” In protest, Brazil refused to recognize bourbon and labeled it “American whiskey.” As the third most consumed spirit in the world, behind vodka and soji/shochu, fans were determined to ‘legalize’ cachaça.
After a grassroots effort led by Leblon Cachaça, on February 25th, 2013, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) finally recognized cachaça as Brazil’s national spirit and a distinct product of Brazil.
But the question remains: Is it rum? Yes and no. It is similar to a rhum agricole, a spirit originally made in the West Indies from pure sugarcane juice. But many modern-day rums, especially some of the larger brands, no longer use sugarcane juice. In order to cut costs, most are made from molasses, a sugarcane byproduct.
Like champagne or tequila with strict laws governing production, specifications include: made in Brazil, distilled from fermented sugarcane with no additives (save a small amount of allowed sugar) and an alcohol content of 38-48% by volume. Compared to rum, its lower alcohol content allows the cane's terroir to shine though with distinct grassy, vegetal notes.
Finding the Taste of Brazil in L.A.
Introduced to New York City’s bar scene roughly eight months ago by none other than Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey), Avuá is already available in more than 300 east coast bars.
Will the west coast follow suit with the artisan cachaça craze? With a soft launch in San Francisco last October and in Los Angeles this month, it’s too soon to tell. Although, with a gaping hole on America’s bar shelf dedicated to Brazil’s national spirit, the stage is set.
Unlike other major spirits, from gin to whiskey, with an abundance of ultra-premium spirit brands to choose from, there are very few cachaças available in the U.S.
But slowly, the nation’s craft cocktail community is embracing its versatility and variety.
“When Will Thompson (head bartender at Drink in Boston) tasted our Amburana cachaça, he said it was like his ‘a-ha’ moment for the spirit category, like Del Maguey was for him with mezcal,” says Whitehouse. “It’s the highest compliment to be compared to Del Maguey.”
Look for the bottle with the slanted wooden top, like a freshly-cut stalk of cane, at these L.A. bars: Three Clubs, Caña Rum Bar, Hakkasan, Kendall's, Pour Vous, La Descarga, The Copper Still, Artisan House, and, soon, at DTLA’s Ace Hotel and Honeycut.
To try it out at home, you can order Avuá (pronounced ahv-wah, derived from the Portuguese word voar ‘to fly’) online at www.drinkupny.com or soon-to-be sold locally at K & L Wines and Barkeep.
Avuá Cachaça Cocktail Recipes
To get your Brazilian-mojo on, in time for all those soccer soirees, here are a few winning recipes:
Pan Am — created by Cervantes Ramirez, Little Branch
2 oz. Avuá Cachaça Prata or Amburana
1 oz. dry curaçao
1 oz. dry vermouth
Add ice, stir and strain into a rocks glass. Add fresh ice.
Garnish for Prata version: Lime wedge squeezed.
Garnish for Amburana version: Orange twist.
Watermelon Cooler — created by Hunter Orahood, The Crow’s Nest
2oz. Avuá Cachaça Prata
2oz. Watermelon Puree
.5oz. agave, simple syrup, or St. Germain
Basil and lime, muddled
Strain into up glass, garnish with basil leaf.
Kumquatcha — created by Heriberto, Hakkasan Beverly Hills
1.5 oz Avuá Prata Cachaça
1.25 oz Junmai Sake
.5 oz Campari
.5 oz Brown Sugar
3-4 Lime Wedges
Pour ingredients in shaker. Muddle kumquats and limes.
Shake and serve. Top with Fever Tree Ginger Ale.