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Cachaça Challenge

The Cachaça Challenge

“What’s the best cachaça for a caipirinha?” (People often ask me this when they find out I’m into sugar cane spirits.) I have my own favorites, but given cachaça’s limited availability in the states, my answers are correspondingly short.

Here in California, Leblon is widely available (Bacardi owns a stake) as is Ypioca (purchased by Diageo in late 2012) but what about the smaller brands? In Brazil, there are hundreds of different cachaças, but with just 0.2% of the country’s two billion liters exported each year, I couldn’t help but wonder: are the Brazilians keeping the best for themselves?

What's the best cachaca for a caipirinha?

In an effort to find out, I solicited help from cachaça brands and purchased several bottles in-person and via the Web. In all, I was able to acquire fourteen clear cachaças. Here they are arranged alphabetically:

  •  51
  • Avuá Prata
  • Boca Loca
  • Cuca Fresca
  • Fazenda Mae de Ouro
  • Leblon
  • Novo Fogo Silver
  • Pirassununga 21
  • Pitú
  • Sagatiba
  • Samba
  • Velho Barreiro
  • Ypióca Crystal
  • Ypióca Prata

Similar to our other spirit challenges, the samples were poured by an assistant into identical glasses while out of view. The blind tasting was accomplished in one sitting with soda crackers and water serving as palate cleansers. After the tasting was completed, the scores were tabulated and organized for you here.

Here they are from worst to first:

14. Boca Loca

Boca Loca Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/750 ml: $24
Nose: Litter box, burning plastic, brine
Taste: Sugar, vanilla, burning plastic, white pepper, rose water
Mouthfeel: Watery, phenolic, saccharin bitterness, spice on the back end
Finish: Saccharin bitterness is long and thoroughly unpleasant
Score: 0

 

13. Fazenda Mae de Ouro

Fazenda Mae de Ouro Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $29
Nose: Ethanol, plastic, phenolics, corn, black pepper, brine
Taste: Sugar, vanilla, burning plastic, white pepper, rose water
Mouthfeel: Slightly bitter, moderate heat, coated the roof of my mouth and the mid palate
Finish: Long and bitter
Score: 0.5
Note: Large amount of white colloidal solids present

 

12. Samba

Samba Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $15
Nose: Band-aids, seaweed, black pepper, citrus zest
Taste: Sweet and smokey entry (odd that this much smoke didn’t come through on the nose) white pepper, cinnamon, citrus
Mouthfeel: Spicy and a bit watery, slight bitterness
Finish: Bitterness builds as smoky finish lingers
Score: 3

 

11. Ypióca Prata

Ypióca Prata Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $22
Nose:Lots of lemon zest, furniture polish, brine, band-aids, plastic
Taste: Band-aids, seaweed, black pepper, burnt plastic, lemon pledge
Mouthfeel: Bitter
Finish: Bitter and chemical-laden with lemon Pledge
Score: 3

 

10. 51

51 Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $19
Nose: Crisp and clean ocean brine, seaweed, cream
Taste: Sweet vanilla cream, seaweed, honey, black pepper, hint of lemon
Mouthfeel: Moderate bitterness, mid and upper palate, watery
Finish: Medium length, moderately bitter
Score: 4

 

9. Pirassununga 21

Pirassununga 21 Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $15
Nose: Lots of honey, vanilla, brine, chamomile
Taste: Honey, lemon zest, vanilla, brine, black pepper, orange
Mouthfeel: Sweet, mildly bitter, a hint of spice
Finish: Slightly bitter, phenols and black pepper
Score: 5

 

8. Pitú

Pitú Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $14
Nose: Sweet corn, brine, black olives
Taste: Sweet corn, black and white pepper, smoke and a bit of grass, brine, green olives
Mouthfeel: Bright despite the sweetness, spice manages to dominate
Finish: Smoky and sweet, quite spicy
Score: 5

 

7. Ypicóca Crystal

Ypióca Crystal Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $19
Nose: Lemon, band-aids, cream, black pepper, grass
Taste: Sugar cane honey, grass, plastic, black and white pepper, black olives
Mouthfeel: Bright, sweet, moderately spicy, moderate bitterness
Finish: Sweet and spicy with a slight bitterness
Score: 5

 

6. Cuca Fresca

Cuca Fresca Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/750 ml: $20
Nose: Seaweed, epoxy, pepper, honey
Taste: Black mushrooms, brine, white pepper, honey, band-aids, grass
Mouthfeel: Watery, little heat, bitter coating
Finish: Smoky and sweet, quite spicy
Score: 5

 

5. Sagatiba

Sagatiba Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/750 ml: $20
Nose: Lemon zest, seaweed, brine, band-aids, cream
Taste: Sweet corn, wheat grass, black pepper, cinnamon, band-aids
Mouthfeel: Spicy and phenolic
Finish: Medium length with spice that quickly turns watery
Score: 6

 

4. Leblon

Leblon Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/750 ml: $22
Nose: Just-cut grass, butter cream, black olives, black pepper
Taste: Bright citrus zest, band-aids, fresh grass, butter cream, black pepper, black and green olives, brine
Mouthfeel: Sweet, spicy, bright, a tad hot yet watery, little bitterness
Finish: Balanced sweet and heat with long spicy finish
Score: 7.5

Buy LeBlon Online

 

3. Velho Barreiro

Velho Barreiro Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/1L: $16
Nose: Fresh grass, sweet cane, butter cream, rose petals
Taste: Black pepper, sugar cane honey, wheat grass, brine, rose water, butter cream
Mouthfeel: Smooth and sweet with ample pepper heat for balance
Finish: Medium length, pleasant. Black pepper finale
Score: 8
Note: Likely the best cachaça value on the market

Buy Velho Barreiro Online

 

2. Avuá Prata

Avuá Prata Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 43%/86°
Price/750 ml: $33
Nose: Fresh grass, butter cream, pepper, brine, green olives, hint of citrus zest
Taste: Lots of cinnamon spice, sweet corn, black and white pepper, wheat grass, cane syrup, fresh squeezed grapefruit
Mouthfeel: Balanced mouthfeel, spicy and citrusy backed by sweetness. Very little bitterness, but what is there is akin to quinine
Finish: Long, spicy, and sweet with quinine bitterness
Score: 9

Buy Avua Online

 

1. Novo Fogo Silver

Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca

ABV /US Proof: 40%/80°
Price/750 ml: $30
Nose: Fresh cut grass, brine, green olives, butter cream
Taste: Sweet corn, seaweed, black pepper, brine, wheat grass, hint of lemon zest
Mouthfeel: Smooth and moderately spicy with attenuated phenolics
Finish: Balanced spice and unctuousness
Score: 9.25

Buy Novo Fogo Online


Well, there you have it, folks: proof that all cachaças are not created equal. It really is amazing how different these expressions all taste given that they are all ostensibly made with very similar ingredients. The top two were especially fantastic. Here are my major takeaways:

  • The difference between the industrial and artisanal products are incredibly stark
  • The distillers’ cuts on the industrial side appear to be made according to yield rather than taste
  • Some are extremely sweet (up to 6g/L may be added under Brazilian law, but some clearly have more)
  • Sugar can’t mask a really bad distillate
  • Some are quite smoky
  • Phenolics (band-aid/seaweed flavors) can overpower an otherwise enjoyable product
  • The best bring a host of disparate flavors and manage to create a perfect harmony of spice, brine, citrus and unctuousness with moderate bitterness

Is your favorite cachaça represented here? Please share your thoughts below.

Saude!
-Josh

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    May 4, 2015 4:59 pm

    In fairness I’ve never had your top three before, but I have had most of the rest. My favorite still, and by far the best for making caipirinha is Seleta, which as far as I know is not imported to the states. It is fairly ubiquitous in Brazil though, and is certainly mass market. I think that when you smell cachaças it should be heavy with the scent of cut sugar cane. Seleta is my go-to for what I look for, and if you can have a friend bring a bottle back when traveling there I highly recommend it.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      May 4, 2015 5:02 pm

      Thanks very much for your comment, Chris. I will have to chase down some Seleta!

  2. May 4, 2015 5:09 pm

    Josh, I always look forward to your comparisons, and this one is no exception. Tasting cachacas is a rare and needed category. We too love the Velho, and let’s face it price matters a LOT. It’s important to keep in mind that these are basically unaged distillate, and yes sugar may or may not be added (legally).

    However while sipping comparisons are definitely of interest, it’s notable that in Brazil, almost all of these whites end up in caiparinha’s, and are rarely sipped (although personally I like to sip whites). As so well put by rum author Luis Ayala, spirits that may be good for sipping, may or may not work as mixers. What he means is that a fine mixing spirit needs to much edgier (which will give it a lower sipping score), but that works extremely well in context. The reverse – a good sipper – likewise may do poorly in context as it doesn’t have the cajones to make the mixed drink sing.

    Josh, we’d be thrilled if you compared all these in context, ie in a caiparinha and see which ones shine for their intended use. Keep up the great work.

  3. John Monroe permalink
    May 4, 2015 7:57 pm

    Interesting line up and read. Some of my favorites for straight up are Weber Haus, Agua Luca which is 12 times filtered, Rochinha oak aged best single barrels, Moleca which is double distilled, Soul very strong citrus notes, Armazem Vieira the Rubi and Onix at both are very complex and flavorful with a clear start to finish bringing you back to the start.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      May 4, 2015 10:31 pm

      Man–I’m missing out! Feels like a trip to Brazil is in order. Perhaps a kindly cachaca company will fly me down for additional research? 🙂

  4. May 4, 2015 9:33 pm

    Second Armazem Vieiras, those are very cool spirits. Next do Pisco.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      May 4, 2015 10:31 pm

      Any source for that locally?

      • May 5, 2015 9:24 am

        My basement? I wonder if it is still available, I don’t see it carried on many internet spirits sites.

      • John Monroe permalink
        May 5, 2015 3:51 pm

        Several Liquor “supermarkets” out here in NY carry most of these and some smaller stores in the mix carry others in limited quantities. The larger stores the “supermarkets” I noticed keep the better Cachaca near the Pisco or in another section far away from the rum. I have found incredibly rare Cachaca down the liqueur isles tucked randomly in the mix! Just have to know what you are looking for really they can be easily missed. I assume you have a few larger supermarket like stores in CA worth a shot at least.

      • John Monroe permalink
        May 5, 2015 3:55 pm

        Most of these more limited products are not even listed on their websites as in stock or even that they carry them so the hunt is often needed to be done in stores.

  5. Tannon permalink
    May 5, 2015 9:16 am

    I second the choice of Velho Barriero. It shines through in a caipirinha and in my neck of the woods is about $13.00 per liter. Has much more personality than the other three or four on your list that I’ve tried. A friend of mine brought it back from Brazil several years ago and I have been ordering it from my local ABC ever since.

  6. JAQO permalink
    May 16, 2016 8:42 am

    I echo Capn’ Jimbo’s comment. You got to try them in a caipirinha to make the proper appraisal.

  7. Marion Queen permalink
    June 22, 2016 7:48 pm

    My favorite is Espirto

  8. Shawn McManus permalink
    February 23, 2017 9:38 pm

    I found Novo Fogo in – of all places – a Washington State Liquor Store. WA has since opened up their liquor sales and the state stores have closed. Some of them still carry it. With the exception of a few others, I’d only ever had the Novo Fogo.

    I though that I just made a better caipirinha than any of the (very few) restaurants in the area that serve them. Turns out I’m just using better ingredients.

Trackbacks

  1. What’s the Best Cachaça for a Caipirinha? | Inu a Kena
  2. Three Cachaças from Delicana » The Lone Caner
  3. Leblon Cachaça – Review – The Lone Caner
  4. The 300th Review – The Lone Caner

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