July 25, 2001
How Brazil Lights Fire in a Glass
By R. W. APPLE Jr.
The promised land for the newly minted North American cachaça-lover, I suppose, is a bar called the Academia da Cachaça in Leblon, the bustling waterfront neighborhood just beyond Ipanema. Its museum houses 2,000 cachaças, distilled over the years since 1870. Its menu is loaded with thirst-inducing snacks like bolinhos, which are fried meatballs or cheese balls, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays it serves a worthy version of feijoada, the hearty pork and black-bean stew that many Brazilians eat each weekend.
The problem with feijoada is that it can leave you feeling as if you have an anvil in your belly. The remedy is a caipirinha or two, and not surprisingly, the academy makes some of the very best. About 50 kinds of cachaça are available for tasting at the academy, a few of them aged in wood; as cachaça develops its own corps of connoisseurs, producers are borrowing techniques from France and Italy. Michael Jackson, the British expert on beer and spirits, ran through 10 cachaças a few years ago and reported in the pages of The Independent, the London newspaper, that he was impressed with what he tasted.
"I greatly enjoyed the resiny character of one called Havana, the peppery flavors of Nega Fulo, the hints of vanilla and chocolate in Germana and the toffee and mint of Senador," Mr. Jackson wrote enthusiastically.
I guess that makes me a philistine. I can do without spice or candy flavors in my cachaça. For me the whole point is something that has the woody taste that blends so felicitously with the clean sharp snap of fresh limes.