By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For most foreigners, cachaça is the primary ingredient in that most quintessential Brazilian cocktail, the caipirinha. For many Brazilians it is often underrated as a cheap spirit, mixed with coke or other soft drinks, but that is changing.
Cachaça has been enjoying something of a resurgence in its unadulterated, artisanal form, and for those curious, here are five great places to get (re)acquainted with the national spirit of Brazil.
Café do Bom Cachaça da Boa (Centro)
This old downtown café, located in a listed building, is somewhat of a mecca for cachaça aficionados. It offers close to 100 diverse cachaças from some of the best alambiques (cachaça distilleries) in Brazil. They also serve excellent coffee and cake.
Jeremy Santos, member of cachaça club ‘Confraria de Cachaça Copo Furado’ (which loosely translates to ‘Brotherhood of the Bottomless Cup’) advises that this is a great place for those interested in learning about cachaça.
“There is nowhere better than Café do Bom Cachaça da Boa … It is owned and run by Yansel Galindo who is current president of the Confraria. He knows a lot, has a good variety and would be happy to help!”
Cachaçaria Mangue Seco (Centro)
This cachaçaria is also a bar and a restaurant. They also boast around 100 different cachaças mainly originating from Paraty, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, or from the state of Minas Gerais, which is the most famous cachaça-producing region in Brazil.
Housed in a mansion dating from the 19th century in the middle of the old city centre, this cachaçaria is an evocative and rustic destination for a tasting session. It also serves excellent Brazilian cuisine daily, being well-known for its seafood. Also, look out for the live samba performances every Friday.
Academia da Cachaça (Leblon/Barra da Tijuca)
The pioneering Academia da Cachaça was founded in Leblon in 1985 and it’s no over-estimation to say that it played a large part in kickstarting a renewed interest in the spirit.
Boasting a huge array of cachaças, with over 2000 bottles in its Barra location, this is world-famous for its dedication to furthering the appreciation of the Brazilian spirit. They also serve feijoada (Brazilian pork and bean stew) daily, plus their caipirinhas are some of the best in the city.
Petisco da Vila (Nova América/Del Castilho)
For those wishing to sample some cachaça distilled onsite without visiting one of the many alambiques (cachaça distilleries) dispersed throughout Rio state, it’s only a short metro ride up to Nova América/Del Castilho Station. According to Santos, the “nearest place to Centro that makes its own cachaça on site is Petisco da Vila at Nova América Shopping.”
However, for those looking to venture further afield, there are many places just a car ride away from the city that make, sell and serve their own artesanal cachaças.
As Santos points out, “the general public view is that cachaça is Mineiro. Yes, they produce great cachaca, but so does Rio de Janeiro, from Quinta produced in Carmo, Seven Engenhos in Campos, Werneck and Vieira Castro in Rio das Flores, Nega Fulo and Fazenda Soledade in Novo Friburgo to Maria Izabel and Coqueiro Verde in Paraty.”
Casa da Cachaça (Lapa)
Claiming to be the first cachaçaria in Rio de Janeiro (it was established in 1960) and boasting over 200 types of cachaça, Casa da Cachaça in Lapa also presents itself as an authentic experience of true Carioca bohemia.
With a menu full of rare and flavored cachaças, while at the same time serving up tasty bar snacks with which to soak up the experience, Casa da Cachaça is both a meeting point for friends and a place to go for a slightly more refined sampling of the stronger stuff than the other more lively bars in the area would be willing to offer.