9 Aged Cachaças to Drink This Summer
Cachaça is so much more than the clear Caipirinha essential you’re used to seeing. In Brazil, cachaça as a category is just as diverse as the whiskey section of any good American liquor store. It comes flavored, sweetened or aged, and ranges in color from clear to yellow to copper-hued. Though cachaça has yet to truly take off to such extremes in the US, exposure from the World Cup in 2014 and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics means Brazil and its main boozy export are more popular and varied stateside than ever before.
Aged cachaça is one of Brazil’s most intriguing spirited exports to date. Where silver cachaça is vegetal and grassy, aged cachaça is complex and almost honeyed with layered notes of wood and tropical fruits. Unlike many unaged cachaças, aged cachaça can and should be sipped straight. They can also add delicious depth to a traditional or fruit-spiked Caipirinha, or be used as a substitute in rum, whiskey and tequila cocktails.
Brazilian law requires that 50 percent of the cachaça in a bottle be rested in barrels for at least a year in order to be considered “aged.” Though it can be, and often is, aged in oak, which imparts flavors and aromas similar to whiskey, cachaça also benefits from its Brazilian heritage (hello, diverse flora of the Amazon rainforest!). Many producers choose to age their cachaça in native woods like amburana, cedar, freijó, garapa, balsa, vinhático and jequitibá.
Though the selection of aged cachaças—often labeled as ouro (“gold”)—available in the US is still limited compared to the hundreds of versions found in the motherland, more and more are popping up on liquor store shelves across the country. To help you get started on your aged cachaça journey, we picked out a few bottlings to add to your summer drinking roster.
If you’re a regular in craft cocktail bars, you’ve likely seen one of these tall, off-kilter bottles lining the bar. After its launch in 2013, Avuá quickly became a bartender favorite. Aside from its unaged bottling, the brand also makes two aged versions. The first is aged in barrels made from an indigenous Brazilian wood—amburana—that imparts savory and fruity notes to the already grassy and herbaceous liquor. In late 2014, the brand added its newest offering: a French oak-aged cachaça. If you’re already a fan of aged rums, Oak is your gateway into the world of cachaça and a solid substitute in classic rum cocktails.
Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged ($38)
Though this cachaça is made along the Atlantic coast of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, it’s aged in American oak barrels, which should ignite a spark of familiarity for whiskey aficionados. The organic spirit is aged for two to three years and takes on flavors akin to that of bourbon, but it also develops banana-forward characteristics. Try this in an Old Fashioned or a Toddy to play up its versatility. Also keep an eye out for Novo Fogo’s special edition single barrel-aged cachaças, including four that were released in 2016, as well as its other special releases like the Graciosa, which is finished in Brazil nut barrels.
Armazem Vieira Onix ($78)
Curious what 10-plus years of aging does to cachaça? Armazem Vieira lets its Onix elixir rest for 16 years. But unlike the spirits thrown in barrels and mostly left alone for that period of time, this is aged and blended solera-style. While you could mix this for a particularly flavorful cachaça cocktail, try sipping it neat or on the rocks to appreciate its teenage mystique.
Pitú Gold ($26 for 1L)
If you’re not familiar with Pitú’s deeper-hued gold variation, it’s likely you’ve seen its clear, prawn-adorned sister on the back of a bar at some point in your drinking career. The brand has been around since 1938 and is named for the Riacho Pitú, a stream that irrigates sugarcane plantations in the region. This brightly herbal version gets its color and sweet, vanilla notes from two years of aging in oak barrels.
GRM Cachaça ($69)
Made in Minas Gerais, a region known for producing quality cachaças, GRM works for its hefty price tag. Though it only spends two years in barrel, it’s aged in three different types of wood: oak, amburana and jequitibá-rosa. Sip it on the rocks or neat to fully appreciate its subtleties, or swap it for the tequila in a Margarita.
Ypióca Cachaça Ouro ($34)
The oldest Brazilian cachaça brand still in operation, Ypióca was founded in 1843 and can still be found all over Brazil and in the US. This particular cachaça is aged for two years in balsam wood vats, giving it a lush, smoky flavor. It’s easy to spot in the liquor store, sporting a hand-woven carnauba palm bottle. Though it can be used in all kinds of cocktails, it makes a mean Caipirinha.
Cachaça Cuca Ouro ($25)
Relatively light in color compared to its barrel-aged brethren, this yellow-tinged spirit has a whopping four years of age on it. And forget the oak—this cachaça is aged in native Brazilian jequitiba wood. Get the full effect of its spicy, nutty flavor by sipping it on the rocks, or try it in a tiki concoction.
Leblon is no doubt one of the more well-known cachaça brands in the US, but its aged version of the spirit (released in 2011) still has yet to catch up in popularity with its celebrated unaged cousin. It looks like a bottle of boutique whiskey on the liquor store shelf, but the amber cachaça’s taste is hard to confuse. Aged up to two years in Limousin French oak, it takes on nutty and sweet honey characteristics that blend nicely into cocktails classically made with whiskey.