Now that temperatures in Europe are getting from ‘Brazilian’ back to normal, it’s about time we start to taste some more rum and cachaça.
First up comes from the Osborne stables – the famous sherry producers in Spain. Under the Santo Grau label they bottle some rather special cachaças. Let’s start with the Coronel Xavier Chaves. The name comes from what is thought to be the oldest sugarcane mill in Brazil, located in Minas Gerais, that apparently belonged to a cousin of Tiradentes, the notorious Brazilian freedom fighter.
But the most unique part of this cachaça lies in it’s maturation. If we can call it maturation? This cachaça is the result of a privileged terroir and it is not aged in wood. Instead, it rests for six months in underground paraffin-coated stone tanks built 250 years ago that were given the status of National Heritage.
The Cachaça: Santo Grau Coronel Xavier Chaves
Origin: Coronel Xavier Chaves – Minas Gerais
Distilled: 2015 – Pot still
Maturation: 6 months – stone tanks
The Nose: A very grassy cachaça with some rather striking and different aromas. A soft see breeze and even a whiff of soft petroleum. White fruits, pear. A bit of a ‘dusty’ smell too, peppery and agricol-y, with very nice mineral touches, some grapefruit and green olives.
The Taste: strong vegetal taste, grassy, but with a pleasant sweet touch. Despite the 40% alcohol it has a firm bite. Fruity notes and again those black olives. Also a bit of a cocoa bitter.
The Finish is rather long, fruity haribo sweets with again that pleasant mineral touch. Slowly drying towards that cocoa bitter.
Our Score: **** a ‘different’ cachaça with a sweet and mineral touch. The latter thanks to the maturation in the stone tanks, or is that just our imagination? Either way: a must have in the collection. The beautiful labels – not an evidence for cachaça – are a bonus. Price: around €30
The Engenho Buriti, located in Papagaios – Minas Gerais started production not too long ago in 2010. Only 3 years later their cachaças already won several gold medals at ExpoCachaça, the most important cachaça fair around.
They produce cachaça under the names of Famosinha de Minas, Santuario de Minas, Dona Branca, and Buriti. But they also produce cachaça for independent companies and bottlers, like ABOUT, a cachaça company operating from…Switzerland.
The Cachaça: About Brazil – Gold
Origin: Papagaios – MG
Maturation: 2 years old
Distillation: pot still
ABV: 40 %
The nose: this makes one happy! Fresh and vivid with beautiful hints of cinnamon, vanilla, liquorice, and very subtle on the background something that reminds me of smoked horsemeat (filet d’Anvers). All the aromas are subtle and well integrated. Give it a good 20 minutes in the glass and it becomes a bit more floral.
The taste is extremely well balanced. The 3 main flavours are in perfect harmony: sweet, vegetal and wood. This cachaça might be a bit less grassy than many others, and has a bit of an un-cachaça like sweet touch; but this sweetness goes very well together with the delicate amburana notes. Again some light cinnamon and vanilla and a touch of ripe cherries. With many amburana matured cachaças, the cinnamon really hits you in the face. ABOUT Gold however is much more delicate. The taste actually reminded me a bit of a soft apfelstrudel. Must be why the Swiss like it I suppose 😊
The finish is very long, again a bit sweet with pleasant fruity notes. White fruits: peach, pear.
Our Score: ****. ABOUT Gold? Yep…a gold medal well deserved.
Now let’s talk availability. For now only available in Switzerland apparently. But you do know how it goes. If I taste a magnificent cachaça like this that is not available in my own country (which is Belgium, fyi) I do try to contact the producers to get it over here as well. So with probability: soon available everywhere in western Europe. Because everyone deserves some Gold in their life!
The Cachaça: Calabró
Origin: Arinos – Minas Gerais
Distilled: n.i. – pot still
Bottled: ca 2017
Maturation: Aroeira wood
There’s always a first for something. In this case, it’s my very first cachaça matured in aroeira wood, a timber tree native from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, and typical for Caatinga, Cerrado, and Pantanal vegetation in Brazil. Tannins isolated from the stem bark have anti-inflammatory and antiulcer potency, showing a strong antioxidant property for possible therapeutic applications. The species has shown some efficacy in therapeutic use and may turn out to be of benefit to neuro-disease patients. In popular Brazilian culture, an extract from the wood is also used against fever. So let’s drink this one to our good health!
Normally I don’t talk about the colour of a cachaça or rum. I find it totally irrelevant which of the 50 shades of yellow a cachaça has. It says absolutely nothing about its taste nor its quality. Today I make a little exception though. This must be the darkest cachaça with natural colour that I’ve seen, with a nice red glow.
I actually hadn’t heard of the Fazenda Maiza distillery in MG, where this cachaça comes from. I found it in a small shop annex restaurant along the 040 highway in Paracatu – MG. Since it was matured in an unknown type of wood (for me) and would set me back only around 8-9 euro…why not!
The Nose starts, as expected, on vegetal sugarcane notes, albeit rather soft and delicate with a slightly sour undertone. The second impression reminds me of a delicate woman’s perfume of white flowers accompanied by a touch of sea breeze.
The Taste is herbal with very well integrated wood tones, that never become bitter. Its vegetal side is again subtle and soft, with a little sweet touch. A round and easy cachaça, but rich and full with a very pure taste. I can imagine whisky drinkers to like this cachaça. The alcohol is well integrated.
The Finish is rather long, with an undefined fruity taste and just like in the mouth a subtle sweet touch.
Our Score: **** Considering its price this is definitely worth every real!
In the relatively small State of Espirito Santo near the Atlantic coastline, the Santa Terezinha distillery started production in 1942. Santa Terezinha is an artisan distillery working with respect for the environment. We’ve seen it all before with other distilleries: manual harvesting without burning the fields, swift pressing of the cane, the bagaço that is being used to heat up the copper pot stills (direct heating), and so on. But what makes Santa Terezinha really different is the particular way of fermenting the calda.
Once the juice or calda has been extracted, an equal amount of boiled sugarcane juice is added. To that mixture, the distiller also adds roasted and grinded bagaço (the dried sugarcane stems) as well as cornflower. To bring this mixture to the right temperature, a big stone is heated and then dropped into the mixing tank. In the meantime leaves of oranges and tangerines are being burned over a fire next to the tank, to clean or to purify the air. After four to five days, the mixture is all ready to go into the fermentation tanks. There it still takes an exceptional four to five days of fermentation to get the garapa ready. Once distilled, 80% of the spirit is used as coração.
All this means a very complex and time consuming method, combining the old traditions from back in those days when slaves made the cagaça with traditional European methods from the viniculture, brought to Brazil by European immigrants.
The Santa Terezinha cachaça is then matured in casks or tuns of oak, jequitiba rosa, bálsamo, umburana, or sassafras. Labels and boxes are often designed by famous Brazilian artists like Hélio Coelho and Haroldo Bussotti, making the bottles also real collector’s items.
The Cachaça: Santa Terezinha Serie Artes
Region: Espirito Santo
Distilled: pot still – lot 2017
Matured: amburana, 6 months
The Nose is rather elegant with soft vegetal aromas of fermenting most and a pleasant and again rather soft herbal touch. Also hints of sweet hay in good balance with a touch of white pepper and fresh sugarcane. Give it a good 15 minutes in the glass and it becomes more floral (rose petals)
The Taste is a bit sweet and rather vegetal on the first impression. As it was with the sassafras version, the second impression is more woody, but this time not as bitter. Some very subtle cinnamon (I suppose these amburana casks are really old, not giving much flavour anymore). Firm sugarcane and a delicate fruitiness reminding me a bit of sweet red fruits.
The Finish is rather woody with a sweet note, and is medium long. Slowly drying towards the end with soft-bitter wood but no aggressive tannins.
We already tried many cachaças on all different kinds of wood, but we never had the opportunity to taste one matured on sassafras wood. Ocotea Odorifea or Canela-Sassafras is a native Brazilian tree rich on safrol: an aromatic ether used as disinfectant and as oil in cosmetics. It can also be found in black pepper, cinnamon or basilicum. Sassafras oil was once the chief ingredient of American root beer. Today, the use of sassafras oil is forbidden in the USA.
The Cachaça: Santa Terezinha Serie Gourmet Sassafras
Origin : Espirito Santo
Distilled : Potstill – 2012
Bottled : 2015 (lot 03/15)
Matured : Sassafras
ABV : 38%
The Nose is rather light and subtle for a cachaça, but still very rich. There are some slightly sour touches, some Black Cavendish tobacco (Alsbo Black) and strong fruity aromas of dried figs and raisins. After about 10 minutes also some cold coffee. Leave it for another 10 minutes and it gets more vegetal, grassy with hints of wet hay.
The taste is a bit strange. I mean…you have some whiskies or rums that start sweet or fruity and go towards strong bitterness of the wood towards the end. Here, the wood comes right in the middle. The first impression is a bit sweet, quickly followed by this bitter woody notes. But at the end of the palate the fruity sweetness makes its comeback. I checked some other cachaças matured on the same wood, and they all have a shorter maturation time (12-18 months). It would be interesting to compare, because it’s my impression that 3 years was a bit too much. The bitter woody notes are overpowering the elegant character of the cachaça itself.
The finish (medium long to long) is woody but now with more sugarcane juice and most, evolving towards a subtle sweetness again.
Pirassununga (São Paulo) is not only home of the biggest cachaça distillery in Brazil (the famous industrial ‘51’) and home of one of the best artisan cachaça distilleries of Brazil (Sapucaia); but there are many other small artisan cachaça producers in the area.
One of them is the Fazenda Guadalupe. Not really a name you want to put on your label if you don’t want to confuse your consumers with Guadeloupe rhum, so good thing their cachaça was baptized ‘Patrimônio’
The cachaça is bottled in a rather a-typical bottle of 600 cc – almost like a beer bottle – with an alcohol percentage of 44%. Matured in bálsamo casks, but only for a very limited time (3 months). Normally bálsamo matured cachaças tend to be very herbal and punchy, and often used in blends. Now let’s find out what a short maturation in bálsamo does to a cachaça.
The Cachaça: Patrimônia
Region: Pirassununtga, São Paulo
Bottled: 2014 (lot 1401)
Matured: Balsamo wood – 3 months
Nose: extremely pleasant aroma with a perfect balance between the sugarcane and the herbal wood aroma. Despite its youth and alcohol content very smooth. Fresh, with hints of ozone and even some iodine. This is very, very promising indeed! Give it a few minutes in the glass, and out pop the sweet ricola-herbs accompanied by delicate white flowers. Herbal honey!
Taste: there are many cachaças that attack on the first taste to get smoother after. This is the exact opposite. The first impression is delicate, with sweet herbs and fine wood, all of a sudden getting hotter and much more spicy. Rather sweet for a cachaça, but who cares, this is just superb pinga! Now let’s see what a drop of water does. Oh boy…adding a drop of water makes the floral notes that were camouflaged by the spicy peppery flavors coming right out now. If the nose was very promising, we can only say that the taste delivers all the good things that were promised!
Finish: again a perfect balance between herbal and woody flavors, with the typical grassy sugarcane almost all gone now. Seems to linger on forever. What a long finish this-one has! Retro-olfactoric some cinnamon and all-spice.
Our Score: **** Oh yeah.. This is so delicate, so well balanced, and with a finish that seems to go on forever. Kudo’s to the distiller, this is what makes good cachaça great!
If we really have to say something negative, it would be : why isn’t this available in Europe yet???
The old armazem or warehouse of the isle of Santa Catharina, dating back to 1840, was being restored in the years 1983-1984 and is now part of the historical heritage of the city. Besides the bar-tavern Armazem Vieira it also hosts the cachaça distillery with the same name.
Armazem Vieira cachaça is being distilled in the tradition of the 18th and 19th century distillers on Santa Catarina. Together with researchers from the local university they try to create or recreate a cachaça doing honor to the old methods. Because the cachaça of the isle was rather special, with particular organoleptic qualities thanks to the climate and the soil condition on Santa Catarina, but also because of the variety of cane used : Saccharum Syneensi. After a rather short fermentation (depending on the ambient temperature between 12 and 14 hours) distillation happens in a small copper pot still of around 600 liter. In order to obtain the ideal fermentation, the distillery uses a biological filter, keeping all unwanted wild yeasts and bacteria out. For the very first fermentation of the season, yeast of last season is used, enriched with sugarcane syrup rich on vitamin B.
Armazem Vieira Safira ( matured for three years in grápia and ariribá wood) scored the 13th place in the Cupula da Cachaça ranking 2016-2017. So let’s see what the fuss is all about!
The Cachaça: Armazem Vieira Safira
Region: Santa Catharina
Distilled: ca 2012 in copper pot stills
Bottled: ca 2015
Maturation: Grápia and araribá wood – 3 years old
The Nose: Yes, this is cachaça all the way. Sugarcane juice, most, the distillery in full action. But all this accompanied by sweet notes of honeydew. Hints of white flowers. A round nose with firm aromas, but without being aggressive or overpowering. Very cachaça like indeed, but with a nice balance. After 15 minutes subtle hints of roasted grains.
Taste: A nice sweet touch and firm sugarcane influence. Soft wood influence that gets firm and bigger with some water. The flowers of the nose don’t proceed in the taste. Tasty, but a bit one-dimensional.
Finish: nice but rather short. Too short even, for my likes. Pleasant woody bitter touch at the very end.
Our Score : *** . This is a very pleasant ad easy-drinking cachaça. In my humble opinion, it lacks a bit of complexity though, so there’s better and richer to be found in this price range. This being said, it makes me very curious to try its older brothers!