Crush on cachaça with Retreat bar manager Tim Wiggins
Cachaça is imbibed on the regular by millions in Brazil but is mostly known in the states as the main ingredient in the Caipirinha cocktail.
Technically a type of rum, cachaça is most definitely its own thing. Like rhum agricole, it’s made with sugarcane juice rather than molasses, giving it a verdant, grassy character. Artisanal versions tend to be distilled in pot stills, further enhancing those vegetal notes, while industrial varieties use column stills, yielding a more stripped-down, harsher spirit.
A simple Caipirinha makes a great introduction to the spirit. The classic cocktail is made with sugar and lime, but do not be fooled – this is not just a cachaça daiquiri. In Caipirinhas, the whole lime is cut into quarters and muddled with sugar in a glass, then topped with the spirit. The texture is rough and rustic, with a bold flavor thanks to cachaça’s inherent funk. Try making a traditional Caipirinha at home, or order one at Yemanja Brasil, Texas de Brazil or Brasilia.
If you’re interested in exploring cachaça’s cocktail potential beyond its greatest hit, head to Retreat. Bar manager Tim Wiggins is a fan of rhum agricoles, so it was just a matter of time until he embraced cachaça’s grassy funk.
Two of his favorite creations on Retreat’s menu are based on Avua, a cachaça new to the St. Louis market. Exit Strategy begins with the prata, or unaged version, then adds white rum, aloe vera, pineapple, ginger and beer foam for a tantalizing combination of funk and spice with a little bitterness. The prata shows up in Retreat’s classic Caipirinha as well.
Avua also produces an ambruana cachaça aged in its namesake wood. “I think it’s the most exciting product they have,” Wiggins said. “It has this brown sugar-oatmeal thing that I think is mind-blowing.”
He pairs it with gin, black currant puree, almond, vanilla cream and lime in the Window Seat. By the looks of it, you might expect the pink drink to be heavy and sweet, but it’s actually refreshing and light with a subtle berry flavor and great aromatics thanks to a torched cinnamon stick garnish.
Wiggins plans on using cachaças heavily at Yellowbelly, the seafood and tropical drinks spot scheduled to debut later this year. He said the bar will have 70 or so rums and “as many cachaças as I can get my hands on.” In addition to using it in more cocktails, Wiggins wants to encouraging solo pours and flights of various cachaças, allowing the aged expressions especially to really shine.
1 lime, quartered
2 tsp. sugar or ½ oz. simple syrup
2 oz. cachaça
• In a double Old-Fashioned glass, muddle the lime wedges and sugar. Top with the cachaça. Or, combine all the ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and shake vigorously. Pour the contents of the shaker, including the ice, into the glass.
Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine.
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