Before embarking on this adventure, I’d, of course, consumed cachaça. But, like many things we use or consume, I hadn’t paid much attention to the way it was made. The label meant nothing to me. Hell, the taste meant nothing to me. I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t care about either, merely that I wasn’t paying attention. And in truth, cachaça, which has been aged in barrels to augment and improve taste is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Now I am paying attention, however, and I find myself with a bit of time on my hands, able to reflect back on the first style of cachaça I came to both notice and appreciate. Cachaça aged in oak barrels is the most popular aged cachaça in Brazil. I’m sure if a survey were done in other countries, the same would be true. And, indeed, it was the first type of cachaça to connect my senses with previous consumption of spirits.
Today, I’d like to run through a number oak-aged cachaças, which I’ve tasted. This isn’t a complete list, of course. But it’s probably a nearly complete list since I traveled in February. It was during that time when I began to pay attention to the very clear differences in cachaça, and particularly the impact the wood has on flavor.
· Rein (oak aged for an indeterminate amount of time)
· Bylaardt (oak-aged 5 years)
· Bylaardt (oak-aged 18 years)
· Santuario (oak-aged 2 years)
· Orizona (oak-aged 3 years)
· Batista (oak-aged 3 years)
· Wruck (oak-aged 5 years)
· Taverna de Minas (oak-aged 12 months)
· Porto Morretes (oak-aged 3 years)
It’s important to note that not all of these oak-aged cachaças are considered similar. Gold cachaça, of which a number of these belong to the category, can be aged in barrels over 700 liters. To get the title Premium or Extra-premium, which carry weight in the market, cachaça can only be aged in barrels of 700 liters or smaller. In addition to the barrel-sizes, premium and extra-premium must be aged for at least one and three years respectively. So, despite the oak-aging, these cachaças are in fact considered to be of different quality.
I’m not at a point where I am comfortable offering preferences, though if anyone has seen any of my postings on Facebook, one might imagine where I stand. What I will say is that oak-aged cachaça is reminiscent of any distilled spirit one might have sampled. The nose may offer differences, but the taste will certainly not surprise anyone. A sampler of oak-aged cachaça need not be adventurous to like it. In fact, oak-aged cachaça is likely to appeal to the least adventurous drinker.
That oak isn’t native to Brazil may offer a glimpse into the reasoning behind relatively short aging periods. Distillers need to make their money back. The cost of those barrels is certainly higher than native species, making them more difficult to get and an important reason why domestic woods remain so popular. Even so, a number of these brands listed above are reasonably priced.
For gringos, oak-aged cachaça is a great entrance. Obviously, the longer it’s aged, the tastier the cachaça is likely to be. However, don’t sleep on the young oak-aged cachaças. They are quite good. If, for example, you’re drinking Jack Daniel’s straight, you’re going to be more than impressed by some of these young products. They are better in taste and quality and lack the burn of a middling Tennessee whisky or Kentucky bourbon.