Cachaça is a spirit that most have heard of, many have maybe even drank its most famous concoction – the caipirinha, but does it have the same knowledge and understanding as say to gin, vodka or whisky? Did you know that cachaça comes from the South American country of Brazil? And that back in 2007, approximately 1.5 billion litres was being consumed annually? So for something that hits the billion mark, how do we know so little about it, despite it being the third most consumed spirit in the world?
Cachaça was conceived and first consumed approximately 1530-1550 in Brazil, with early reports citing the state Bahia (then a Portuguese captaincy) as its origin. Cachaça is made from natural sugar cane juice, where in the 15th century, Brazil was the biggest sugar producer in the world. The first use of distilled cachaça was to the natives and to feed the slaves so they could work without feeling so much pain. Despite the rest of the Brazilian population regarding cachaça as a poor man’s drink and instead opting for imported whiskeys and cognacs, the versatile taste of cachaça meant it began to be consumed by the Brazilian elite and became very popular in Brazil around the 16th century. Its popularity was so big that it dwarfed competitive Portuguese products, resulting with the Portuguese court banning cachaça consumption in many Brazilian states from 1635 to 1639. Over the years new and better methods for producing cachaça were developed and the spirit started to appear on the finest tables in the colonial Brazil. Around 1808 when Brazil was close to become a free country from the Portuguese colony, cachaça was one of the most important products of the Brazilian economy.
In hopes of boosting cachaça to the heights of acceptance, respectability and especially sales that Mexican tequila has enjoyed, the Brazilian government has imposed several new cachaça regulatory measures. In 2001, then Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed a decree that established cachaça as an official and exclusive name for Brazilian cane alcohol. Then in October 2003 the new Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, issued another decree specifying both the names cachaça and the Caipirinha as strictly Brazilian in origin. Brazil has also sent this issue to the World Trade Organization in the hope that the names cachaça and Caipirinha will eventually gain intellectual property rights protection under international law.
The US however is one of the few countries that defines any spirit derived from sugar cane as rum. Accordingly, cachaça sold in the United States must say “rum” somewhere on the front label. Many brands refer to their product as Brazilian Rum on the label, despite cachaça predating the invention of rum by over a century. One brand has taken this to new heights and had made changing the Brazilian Rum moniker a priority. Leblon’s ‘Legalize Cachaça’ campaign targeted bartenders, the trade, consumers and the press with the purpose of educating the masses about the distinctions between cachaça and rum. The campaign also lobbied the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to recognize cachaça as a class or type of distilled spirit under the authority of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act. As a result, the U.S. government agreed to begin proceedings to allow the recognition of Cachaça as both ‘Cachaça’ and as a distinctive product of Brazil. In return, the Brazilian government agreed to recognize both Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon as distinctive products of the United States.
So how did Leblon become such a force and influence the change in something on an international scale?
Leblon was created back in 2005 by Steve Luttmann, Roberto Stoll (although no longer directly linked to Leblon) and Gerard Schweizer after Steve thought that he could make not only a better cachaça, but the best. After two years of hard work, Steve brought in master distiller Gilles Merlet who perfected the production of Leblon to become ‘a great cachaça’. Produced in Minas Gerais (a state in Brazil) and named after a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro that Steve used to live in, Leblon’s exclusive microdistillery creates small batches via Alambique pot stills, as opposed to mass-produced via continuous stills. The reason for this is to create a more refined product, as Gilles Merlet approched Leblon as if making a fine wine.
The cane is hand-harvested from a nearby field, and because of the land elevation, the canes grow taller, producing more liquid and flavour. It’s then delivered to the distillery in less than three hours for pressing. The juice is fermented for 15 hours before being transferred into the Alambique copper pot stills for single-batch distillation (these stills can hold 450,000 litres each). The distillate is then rested up to 6 months in vintage XO cognac casks from France. The cognac casks are used because they retain the nose of the cachaça, compared to local woods that were first tried and tested. The various batches are then blended, and the final batch is triple-filtered and bottled.
So how does this major force in the cachaça industry finish? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Leblon – 40%
Soft aromas of grass and dry corn on the nose, with a subtle mix of herbs and vanilla near the end. On the palate, a smooth blend of subtle butterscotch and citrus flavours go hand-in-hand with a sweet, mouth-watering ending that goes on and on.
As you can imagine, Leblon goes very well with Brazil’s national drink – the caipirinha, but it also mixes nicely with other ingredients.
60 ml Leblon
30 ml sugar syrup / 2 tea spoons of sugar
Slice half a lime and place into a rocks glass. Add sugar syrup and smash the limes to extract the juice. Pour in Leblon, fill with ice and stir.
Orange and Spice
45 ml Leblon
30 ml Orange juice
15 ml Aperol
15 ml Sugar syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice, shake and strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange slice or cinnamon stick.
Two fantastic examples of how versatile cachaça can be. And whilst you’re serving these up at home or being created one at your local bar, you can be safe in the knowledge that you will be drinking an award-winning spirit too. Leblon was a Gold Medal winner at the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a 7-consecutive-year run, which is a first for any cachaça. (In 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2012 Leblon was awarded the Double Gold Medal for Best Cachaça.) It was also the Best in Class Winner at the 2007 International Tasting Competition in London and was awarded the 2010 Rising Star Growth Brand Award.
Not bad for something we hardly know anything about. Worthy of a try.
Check out the rest of the photos, taken at The Circle 360, via my Facebook page.
* Special thanks to Steve Luttmann who gave me the chance to speak to him personally regarding his thoughts and origins on his creation.*
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.