We recently received a bottle of cachaca as a gift. Frankly, I find the flavour harsh. Is there a way to make it taste good?
Ketchup! (Kidding.) I suspect you're not alone in receiving cachaca in the summer of 2014. The (usually white) potation is the national spirit of Brazil, host of the soccer's World Cup and the inspiration, I'm sure, for many a Brazilian-themed TV-viewing party.
You're also not alone in grimacing at the taste. Cachaca is distilled from sugar cane, which pretty much qualifies it as rum. But there are technical differences between most cachacas and rum as we've come to know it. The main distinction tends to be purity. Cachaca is distilled to a lower strength than the 90-plus-per-cent alcohol level of most white spirits, such as vodka and light rum (though like those other spirits it ultimately is usually diluted to about 40 per cent prior to bottling). As it comes off the still, the lower-strength brew retains more of the sugar-cane "impurities" that contribute to its distinctive, love-it-or-not character.
The vast majority of cachaca is produced and consumed in Brazil, and I would venture to guess that virtually all the exported volume is enjoyed in the form of a caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail. Essentially a bikini-clad, Portuguese-speaking daiquiri, the caipirinha is easier to concoct than an excuse for why Portugal, Spain, England and Italy imploded so early in the 2014 World Cup finals. Cut half a lime into wheels or half-wedges and muddle in an old-fashioned glass. Add half a teaspoon of sugar (or more to taste) with 2 ounces cachaca and a couple of ice cubes. Stir and enjoy on a beach or in front of a soccer game.
From a classic-cocktail standpoint, cachaca is basically a one-drink wonder; you won't find it called for in many other celebrated potations. But it can acquit itself and even shine in many drinks that call for light rum, especially if you happen to be stirring or shaking in a string bikini.
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol was recently named one of this season's Top 10 cookbooks in the United States by Publishers Weekly. Published by HarperCollins.