Spirit Of Brazil

Still an underutilized spirit behind the bar, Cachaça is due for its time in the spotlight.

Cachaça is becoming more popular in the U.S. and bartenders are going beyond the Caipirinha to incorporate it into more complex cocktails. At Rex in Philadelphia, the Lightning Has No Choice (pictured) blends Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça with flavors like espresso, green bean, and basil.
Cachaça is becoming more popular in the U.S. and bartenders are going beyond the Caipirinha to incorporate it into more complex cocktails. At Rex in Philadelphia, the Lightning Has No Choice (pictured) blends Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça with flavors like espresso, green bean, and basil. (Photo by Ching-I Zdyrko)

When Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014 and then the Olympics in 2016, it seemed like Cachaça, the country’s native spirit with a base of fermented sugarcane juice, was ready to go mainstream in the U.S.—but it didn’t quite pan out that way. “We saw a bit of a surge in popularity around those events, but Cachaça is still relatively unknown in the U.S.,” notes Ivy Mix, co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York, and author of the book “Spirits of Latin America.” “Brazilians obviously know it and we have quite a few Brazilian regulars who exclusively order Cachaça-based cocktails, but most people are unaware of it.” 

There are more Cachaças available in the U.S. today than there were in 2016, but the numbers are still nowhere near other imported spirits like rum and mezcal. “When I was working in New York City in the ’90s, there was only one Cachaça that you could get for your bar,” says Almir Araujo, co-owner of the Brazilian restaurant and bar Tapizôn in El Segundo, California. “Today, here in Los Angeles you might find a handful of brands—our bar has 18 selections— but in Brazil there are endless varieties.” Morgan Weber, beverage director and co-owner of Houston-based Agricole Hospitality, similarly recalls a time when he could only get one brand of Cachaça for the group’s first bar. “And this was in 2008 or 2009—there just wasn’t a ton of variety available back then,” he says. “It’s nice to have more and better quality Cachaça coming in now, but it’s still one of those spirits that we don’t get a lot of curiosity around in our bars.” 

Indeed, Cachaça has a rich history in Brazil but it has yet to gain widespread recognition in the U.S. cocktail scene, notes Dragan Milivojevic, bar manager of Bacalar in Austin, Texas, but he’s hopeful this will change. “With the growing popularity of mixology and the increasing interest in exploring new flavors, there’s an opportunity for Cachaça to gain more prominence and captivate the palates of cocktail enthusiasts.” 

As Emilio Salehi, beverage director at Cavaña in San Francisco, points out, today’s mixology scene has produced a generation of creative bartenders who are always looking to innovate and explore different spirits and flavor combinations—so Cachaça could very well be the next big spirit. “While Cachaça is widely consumed in Brazil, it’s very underutilized on cocktail menus around the world, but I think that fact makes Cachaça an attractive ingredient for bartenders who are trying to offer something new or less common to their guests,” he says. “Most guests are still learning about Cachaça, but in general they’re very enthusiastic when they learn that it’s the national spirit of Brazil. Usually our guests are just one Caipirinha away from becoming avid Cachaça enthusiasts.” 

Cachaça is similar to rum, which makes it an easy substitute in tiki-inspired cocktails like the Fireside (pictured) from UnderTow in Arizona.
Cachaça is similar to rum, which makes it an easy substitute in tiki-inspired cocktails like the Fireside (pictured) from UnderTow in Arizona. (Photo by Grace Stufkosky)

Discovery Phase

Before moving to Southern California, Eric Petterson, who now co-owns Tapizôn with Araujo, owned and operated two bars in New York City: Coffee Shop and Live Bait. Brazilian native Araujo ran the bar programs of these venues and helped bring his country’s spirit to the everyday New Yorker. “When I opened Live Bait in 1990, we helped get Cachaça and the Caipirinha into the mainstream media,” Petterson says. “We believe our success there will happen again in Los Angeles by having guests explore artisanal Cachaça just like they do mezcal. Our overall creativity and Almir’s lifelong familiarity with Cachaça are a magical duo to create a trend.” At Tapizôn, Araujo’s Caipirinha ($14)—Brazil’s national Cachaça-based cocktail—features Cabaré Silver Cachaça plus muddled lime and sugar. His Beijo ($15), meanwhile, is an original tropical tipple comprising hibiscus-infused Cabaré Silver and Flor de Caña Extra Seco rum, fresh lemon juice, house-made vanilla syrup, and Fee Brothers Peach bitters.

“We definitely use Cachaça in lighter, fruit-forward cocktails, but we do try to lean a little more on the creative side,” Agricole Hospitality’s Weber says. At the groups’ Eight Row Flint bar in Houston’s East End neighborhood, the Caipirinha ($14) blends Avuá Prata Cachaça, lime juice, coconut water, and mint with house-made calamansi, honey, and lime cordial. “By nature Cachaça has some funkiness to it that people often aren’t used to, and it’s important to me when introducing spirits that are out of the norm to put them in inherently lovable drinks,” Weber adds. “If we’re going to use Cachaça in a drink when we know that our audience isn’t used to that, we’re going to put it in a style of drink that they’re probably going to like. They might not even know what they’re drinking but if they’re a little bit more curious they might say, ‘oh, this is Cachaça, I didn’t realize that, maybe I should explore that a little bit more or a little deeper.’”

Radovan Jankovic, co-founder of Unordinary Hospitality and beverage director for the group’s Mercy Me restaurant and bar at the Yours Truly hotel in Washington, D.C., likes to pair the strong and distinctive flavor of Cachaça with similarly strong flavors. “Tropical fruits, spices, and citrus are the answer,” he says. His Caipirinha-inspired Caipi Lychee ($16) at Mercy Me mixes Avuá Prata Cachaça, Brooklyn Kura Number Fourteen Junmai sake, Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto bergamot liqueur, house-made lychee cordial, lime juice blended with whole lime purée, and fresh raspberries. “The Caipi Lychee blends the robust notes of Cachaça with the zesty tang of lime and the aromatic flair of the bergamot, while the raspberry and lychee introduce a sweet, fruity complexity, creating a symphony of flavors,” Jankovic adds.

James Nowicki, bar manager at Common Thread in Savannah, Georgia, believes that cane distillates in general are misunderstood among many consumers. “But we’re currently in a boom period for tropical drinks and themed bars, and what’s going to come out of that is more presence of cane spirits, which may help Cachaça,” he says. “What’s cool about Cachaça to me is that it undergoes a very gentle distilling process that can result in a very expressive terroir-rich distillate that tells a lot about the environment and the process used to make it. It’s most similar to French-style rhums, which are also made from fresh-pressed cane juice as opposed to a sugar processing byproduct.” His Maracuja Daiquiri ($16) comprises Avuá Prata Cachaça, Chinola passion fruit liqueur, fresh lime juice, and rich simple syrup. 

With its similarity to rum, Cachaça is a natural fit for tiki-inspired cocktails, which are indeed very popular right now. At Aphotic in San Francisco, bar director Trevin Hutchins’ Bird ($19) features Novo Fogo Bar Strength Silver Cachaça, Aelred melon aperitif, John D. Taylor’s velvet falernum, passion fruit juice, and house-made avocado and coconut cream. At UnderTow, which has locations in Phoenix and Gilbert, Arizona, the Fireside ($17)—created by Jason Asher, founding partner and vice president of beverage for venue owner Barter & Shake Creative Hospitality—blends Germana Umburana Cash Cachaça, Plantation O.F.T.D. rum, Jägermeister liqueur, sweetened condensed milk, Reàl pumpkin purée, and pineapple, lime, and lemon juices. In Mix’s “Spirits of South America,” she features Cachaça in the Piña Colada-inspired Maiden Name, blending Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça, lime juice, house-made vanilla and cinnamon syrups, “Coco biz”—an equal parts mix of coconut milk and Coco Lopez cream of coconut—and a blend of The Perfect Purée Passion Fruit and superfine sugar. At her bar Leyenda, meanwhile, Cachaça was featured on the recent holiday menu in the frozen Candy Striper ($16), mixing Leblon Cachaça, Coco biz, maple syrup, house-made vanilla syrup, lemon juice, and Flavorganics peppermint extract.

At Cavaña in San Francisco, the Melón Salvia (pictured) incorporates Cachaça witht herbal ingredients and a house-made hibiscus tincture.
At Cavaña in San Francisco, the Melón Salvia (pictured) incorporates Cachaça witht herbal ingredients and a house-made hibiscus tincture.

Room To Grow

Mix notes that while Cachaça is perhaps most commonly featured in fruity shaken cocktails, it works equally well in stirred, spirit-forward drinks. “It all depends on whether you’re using a Cachaça that’s aged in endemic wood from Brazil or is unaged,” she explains. “The aging process can bring in flavors like cinnamon and incense, which makes using it in Negroni-like stirred cocktails a real win.” In “Spirits of South America,” her Shadow Boxer mixes Yaguara Cachaça—which is rested for 10 months and blended with 6-year-old Cachaça aged in oak barrels—Campari aperitif, Dolin Dry vermouth, Blume Marillen Apricot eau de vie, and Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rose pink grapefruit liqueur. Similarly Negroni-inspired drinks, The Audition ($15) at Fringe Bar in Philadelphia—created by bartender Drew Young—blends Aguaviva Cachaça, Porter’s Tropical Old Tom gin, jalapeño-infused Casa Mariol Blanco Vermut, Aperol aperitif, fresh lime juice, and mint, while the Rhubarb ($24) at Eleven Madison Park in New York City—created by beverage director by Sebastian Tollius—comprises white chocolate-washed Avuá Amburana Cachaça, lemon verbena-infused Beefeater London Dry gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, house-made pink peppercorn shrub, lemon juices, and two dashes of Pernod absinthe. “People are exploring more spirits and I think the complexity and huge array of styles of Cachaça make it ripe for more popularity,” Mix adds. “Especially the aging process—which features woods not used or seen in any other spirit—provides much to learn about and much to taste, similar to the many agaves used in mezcal production.”

Slowly but surely bartenders are discovering that Cachaça works in a range of cocktail styles outside of the Caipirinha build. At Common Thread, Nowicki’s Amburana Old Fashioned ($16) features Avuá Amburana Cachaça, house-made cinnamon demerara syrup, and Angostura Aromatic and Orange bitters. “Avuá is a really excellent brand that’s experimenting a lot with unique finishes on their Cachaça,” Nowicki notes. “They have multiple expressions aged in different kinds of Brazilian wood, including Amburana, a fragrant, highly sought-after type of wood grown in the Amazon.” Bacalar’s Milivojevic notes that Cachaça’s diverse flavor profile makes it an excellent and versatile tool behind the bar. “Cachaça boasts a unique combination of funky, earthy, and grassy notes, complemented by fruity and vegetable aromas, all derived from the fermentation of sugar cane juice,” he says. “Additionally, Cachaça can be aged in wooden barrels, resulting in a richer taste reminiscent of Christmas spices, dried fruit, coffee, or baking spices. This range of flavors makes Cachaça perfect for pairing with all types of flavors, ingredients, and cocktail styles.” His Espirito Santo ($18) features Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça, house-made pandan cordial, lime juice, Dram Palo Santo bitters, saline solution, and soda water, while his Man With The Hat ($20) comprises Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged Cachaça, pineapple-infused Dolin Dry vermouth, Bittermens Elemakule Tiki bitters, and Angostura Cacao bitters.

“When it comes to Cachaça cocktails, tropical and citrus flavors make a ton of sense but I also get excited about using Cachaça in less common ways,” Cavaña’s Salehi says. “Pairing Cachaça with herbal components is something that I’ve had a lot of success with this past year and I’m looking forward to experimenting with some savory ingredients in the near future.” His Melón Salvia ($18) blends Novo Fogo Bar Strength Silver Cachaça, sage-infused La Fuerza Blanco vermouth, Chareau aloe liqueur, house-made cantaloupe agua fresca, lemon juice, and house-made hibiscus tincture. “At Cavaña our Cachaça of choice is Novo Fogo Bar Strength—it’s just hands down the best tasting Cachaça we’ve come across,” Salehi adds. “We also heavily consider the ethics of companies we work with. Creating a product that is carbon negative and helps contribute to the reforestation of the Amazon with indigenous trees is a huge part of why we love Novo Fogo and use it for all of our Caipirinhas and house cocktails.”

Joshua Schied, beverage director at Rex at the Royal in Philadelphia, similarly favors Novo Fogo. “In addition to the focus on sustainable practices, their Cachaças have fresh-cut grass and overripe mango notes alongside a mysterious presence of petrichor and warm, damp soil,” he says. His The Lightning Has No Choice ($16) blends Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça, Letherbee Bësk liqueur, pineapple juice, espresso, Sichuan peppercorns, and house-made green bean, mint, and basil syrup, topped with grated cured egg yolk, while his Prove It On Me ($16) mixes Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged Cachaça, Dewar’s Blended Scotch, Fell to Earth Dry Rosé vermouth, Empirical Spirits Soka, olive brine, and house-made banana and Parmesan cheese tincture. “Cachaça is one of my favorite cocktail spirits, and that’s largely because of its divisively funky, earthy, petrolic profile—anything with a staunch character has the potential to create a cocktail with a real depth of flavor,” Schied adds. “While citrus and other fruits are the traditional complements to Cachaça’s wilder side, I prefer to pair it with earthier flavors to ground it—plants grow in the dirt, after all.”

Agricole Hospitality’s Weber similarly appreciates Cachaça’s distinctive funky flavor and is hopeful more consumers will get on board with it soon. “We’ve been conditioned to enjoy bitter flavors over the last 15 years since the cocktail movement really found its legs, and I think that, plus the growing interest in some of these really cool funky Jamaican rums, has ushered in people’s palates to get ready for something a little bit more off the wall,” he says. “Cachaça is ready for its time.”

Schied also points to growing interest around rum as a potentially good sign for Cachaça. “Being in many ways adjacent to a spirit that is more well known in the American market certainly has Cachaça well-poised in the proliferation of craft cocktail programs looking to rely on tried-and-true recipes with alternate spirits,” he says. “I hope to see a wider variety of Cachaças stocked at bars as well as more inventive original cocktails featuring the spirit. I think it’s likely that the campaign to really popularize Cachaça will begin very tied to its history as a working-class spirit.”

Cachaça-based Cocktail Recipes


By Almir Araujo

2 ounces hibiscus-infused Cabaré Silver Cachaça and Flor de Caña Extra Seco rum¹;

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice;

½ ounce vanilla syrup²;

3 dashes Fee Brothers Peach bitters;

Lemon peel.


In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine Cachaça and rum blend, juice, syrup, and bitters. Shake and strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

¹Combine 1 750-ml. bottle Cachaça and 1 750-ml. bottle rum in a Cambro or other container. Add ½ cup dried Jamaican hibiscus flowers and easy stir for one minute. Close the container and let sit for one hour at room temperature. Strain well, removing all flowers, and pour back into bottles for storage. 

²Cut two vanilla beans down the middle, scrape vanilla out, and stir into 32 ounces of a 1:1 ratio simple syrup. Let sit in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before using.


By Trevin Hutchins
(Photo by Kelly Puleio)


1½ ounces Novo Fogo Bar Strength Silver Cachaça;

¾ ounce Aelred melon aperitif;

¼ ounce John D. Taylor’s velvet falernum;

¾ ounce passion fruit juice;

1½ ounces avocado and coconut cream³;

Passion fruit seed tuile (optional).


In a pebble or crushed ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine Cachaça, aperitif, velvet falernum, juice, and cream. Shake and pour into a highball glass and top with more pebble or crushed ice. If using, garnish with passion fruit seed tuile.

³Blend together 1 ripe avocado and 1 can (15 ounces) Coco Lopez coconut cream until smooth.

Shadow Boxer

By Ivy Mix
(Photo by Shannon Sturgis)

1½ ounces Yaguara Cachaça;

¾ ounce Campari aperitif;

¾ ounce Dolin Dry vermouth;

¼ ounce Blume Marillen Apricot eau de vie;

¼ ounce Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rose pink grapefruit liqueur;

Orange peel coin.


In an ice-filled mixing glass, combine Cachaça, aperitif, vermouth, eau de vie, and liqueur. Stir and strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel, expressing the peel over the drink first.