An Exploration of Cachaça and Sagatiba

Sagatiba Cachaca
Sagatiba Cachaca

Before starting our journey with Drink Spirits, we had never heard of cachaça (pronounced kah-shah-sah) but our experience with it and Sagatiba have been so positive that we’re extremely happy to have discovered this easy drinking and flavorful spirit.

As with cognac, cachaça is considered a region-specific product and cannot be produced outside of Brazil.  Brazil produces a staggering amount of sugar cane each year. In 2006, Brazil produced over thirty million tons of sugar cane, almost more than India and China combined. With all this readily available sugar cane, Brazil has the luxury of using the fresh sugar cane juice which is fermented and distilled into cachaça.

Cachaça is often mistakenly labeled as “rum” (and a quirky US law actually requires cachaça to be labeled “Brazilian Rum”).  However, cachaça is its own unique spirit category with very strict parameters on how it can be distilled and sold.  While most rum is produced from molasses, which is the byproduct of extracting sugar from sugarcane, cachaça can only be made from the fresh sugar can juice itself.

To make the picture more complicated, rhum agricole, which is produced on the French island of Martinique (which has its own AOC or country designation), is also distilled from sugar cane juice.  The two spirits, while cousins, are not the same. Cachaça differs from rhum agricole in three distinct and important ways:

  1. Geography – Cachaça can only come from Brazil and rhum agricole from Martinique
  2. Fermentation – Rhum Agricole is fermeted with the sugar cane stalks, Cachaça isn’t
  3. Proof – Cachaça is distilled to a lower proof than Rhum Agricole

While rum is extremely prevalent in the US, cachaça really isn’t. This can be partly attributed to the huge consumption of cachaça in Brazil, which consumes almost 99% of the cachaça it produces. The volumes are huge considering 1.3 billion litres were distilled in 2001 with an average of 13 liters consumed per person in Brazil per year. The consumption is so high that cachaça is ranked the 3rd top white spirit in the world.  In the US, however, cachaça is just getting started. Aside from the quirky law requiring it to be mis-labeled as “Brazilian Rum”, many of the aged cachaças aren’t permitted to be sold in the US due to the woods they are aged in, including tropical hardwoods cut from precious rainforest (which most notable premium export brands use).

Sagatiba has recognized the opportunity for cachaça and created a premium line of export-friendly spirits.

The Sagatiba cachaça comes in three varieties:

  • Sagatiba Pura (80 proof)  – A multi-distilled unaged spirit which is made from sugar cane juice which is fermented, distilled, diluted down with mineral water and then redistilled in a space-age column still with computerized multi-column chambers which pinpoint precise elements to be removed or redistilled. Sagatiba Pura has a nice sweet nose with vanilla, simple syrup, and the slightest hint of a vegetal undertone. The taste is bright and sweet, light and clean  with notes of brown sugar, caramel, banana and cookie dough. It has some light citrus tones with a subtle vegetal undercurrent and just a hint of heat on the backend. Pura’s medium finish tastes like sugar cane and is nice, sweet and clean leaving the mouth perfectly dry. We love how Pura isn’t overly sweet or syrupy and were impressed how amazingly distilled it is. Highly Recommended
  • Sagatiba Velha (80 proof)- An artisan pot distilled cachaça produced from sugar cane immediately surrounding the distillery in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Velha is aged for 2-3 years in second use bourbon barrels (from Jim Beam) and then filtered through osmosis for clarity. Velha has a pale gold color with huge butterscotch, bananas foster and caramel on the nose.  The taste is big butterscotch but feels surprisingly light. There’s more heat than the Pura (even though they are at the same proof) with some very subtle spice to complement it. The finish is nice and long with butterscotch caramel that cleans up very nicely with a clean mouth feel. Velha is an excellent spirit to introduce someone to drinking a hard spirit straight; it’s sweet but light and incredibly delicious.   Highly Recommended
  • Sagatiba Preciosa (84 proof) –  This was a rare find in Sagatiba’s vaults – a batch of cachaça which had been aged in huge cognac barrels since the 1980s.  Aged 23 years in total, this brandy-like cachaça is an absolute delight. Preciosa has a nice amber color, the nose is very subtle but complex with woodsy notes lingering just at the edge. The taste has deep wood in it, old oak with raisin, cinnamon and tabacco. It has a wonderful complexity and refined feeling to it with a beautiful finish.  Preciosa is very rare and fairly pricey, but it’s worth seeking out. Highly Recommended

In the US, cachaça may be best known as the key ingredient in the delicious and easy to make Caipirinha which is a fantastic blend of lime, sugar and cachaça.

John Gakuru making a Caipirinha
John Gakuru making a Caipirinha

Here’s the Caipirinha recipe:

2 oz Sagatiba Pura (unaged cachaça)
1/2 Lime, quartered
2 Barspoons of Sugar (or 3/4 oz of simple sugar)

Muddle the lime and sugar together in a glass, add the cachaça, ice, and stir. The drink can also be shaken and then served.

One of the things we really like about Sagatiba’s cachaça is how well it works to smooth out and sweeten savory drinks. It can be used in some of our favorite tequila drinks in place of blanco tequila and in many vodka drinks.

Two unique savory cachaça drinks which really shine are:

Brazil Smash with Basil and Sagatiba Cachaca
Basil Smash with Basil and Sagatiba Cachaca

The Basil Smash – a basil and cachaça drink which is striking in appearance and taste. We never thought we’d fall in love with a basil  drink, but with the cachaça it’s sublime.

Here’s the Basil Smash recipe (courtesy of Le Lion Rotterdam):

A handful or 2 of fresh basil (purple basil works great when it’s in season)
1/2 lime, quartered
2 bar spoons of simple syrup or 3/4 oz of simple syrup
2 oz Sagatiba Pura cachaça

Fill a boston shaker 1/2 to 3/4 full of basil (you want to use a LOT), muddle it with the lime and sugar, add cachaça and shake with ice. Strain and serve over ice. Garnish with a sprig of basil.

Ginger Cachaca
Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo –  ginger can be volatile in a drink and quickly throw it out of balance or dominate a cocktail. In this drink the cachaça and orgeat do a fantastic job of balancing it out into an extremely delicious cocktail.

Here’s the Rio Bravo recipe (courtesy of John Gakuru – Created by Nidal Ramini of Dusk Bar, London):

1/2 inch square piece of ginger diced
1 oz Orgeat (Trader Tiki Syrup)
1 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Sagatiba Pura cachaça

Combine the ingredients and then shake, strain and serve up. Garnish with an orange peel.

One of the things we enjoy the most about running Drink Spirits is the opportunity to discover and share new things. Cachaça is exactly the kind of spirit we started this site to cover. It’s one not too many people are familiar with and it’s exceptionally enjoyable. Enjoying spirits is a journey and cachaça is a great stop that we heartily recommend.