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Jan 28, 2009 10:23 AM

Rhum, Cachaca, Sugar Cane Brandy?

When I visited Barbados, I came across a delicious spirit in the Mount Gay Distillery named Sugar Cane Brandy, a name uniquely held in the island for the spirit. It did not cross over to the United States for legal reasons, brandy needing to be derived from fruit. It is available in the US under Sugar Cane Rum. The product was a clean, fresher tasting rum, with some vegetal notes and very enjoyable. According to our guide, it was made primarily from the juice of the cane, not molasses.

Some research later, and I came across the rhums of Martinique, which are fantastic and made from the juice as well. The ones I've had are far more vegetal and complex than most other rums I've tried, and have a wholly different flavor profile.

Then there's Cachaca, which I have not enjoyed on its own but am curious about. From what I can tell, it is made much the same way as the rhums. Is there a technical difference between cachaca and rhum or are they basically the same products? Thank you in advance for your comments

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  1. Rum and Cachaca are not the same product.Cachaca is from sugar cane juice, most rum is from molasses, but can be also from sugar cane juice.Cachaca is fermented with maize flour and rum uses yeast.They are distilled similarly in copper pot stills, rum also uses column stills.Under US law cachacas coming in to the US have had to use the label of rum because the process fits the definition of rum under US law.

    Brazil has fought this and now companies have cachaca on the label as it should be.In Brazil where the majority of the 3rd most consumed spirit on the planet is made, there is rum and there is cachcaca.Cachaca has a flavor profile totally different from rum, and there is a quality in every cachaca that it distinctive.Their cocktail derivatives are different as well.No Brazilian or cachaca manufacturer would ever call a cachaca a rum, nor would they be considered similar products.

    Cachaca is made only in Brazil under Brazilian law , where rum is made in many countries with varying laws and styles.

    Don't know where you live, but many places in Socal are increasing their cachaca stock..Hi Times in Costa Mesa seems to be one of the only places with sipping cachacas.I would get a bottle of Germana, a benchmark sipping cachaca aged two years and try it alongside a nice rum of similar age.I would then get a bottle of Ypioca, 51, or Velho Barreiro cocktail grade cachacas and make a caipirinha and try it alongside a caipirissima, similar cocktail made with a cocktail grade rum like bacardi light.They both are made with muddled lime and sugar in a cocktail glass, covered with ice, and then splashed with cachaca and rum respectively.These two tasting will tell you everything you need to know about difference, and why Brazilians would laugh themselves silly over cachaca and rum ever being considered a similar product.

    Saude cachaceiro!

    4 Replies
    1. re: streetgourmetla

      Fantastic explanation!

      Also, when you make a caipirinha, remember to use superfine sugar. Otherwise, the sugar usually doesn't dissolve properly. Additionally, they are very strong drinks. So, be careful! Either try one at home or plan on not driving home from wherever you are.

      In Brazil, caipirinhas also come in other flavors. If you enjoy them, have fun experimenting. Over Christmas, I often make them with tangerines; although, I use less sugar then. Currently, you could probably do interesting things with blood oranges.

      1. re: foodieseattlelady

        FSL- Personally I disagree about the superfine sugar. I think the roughness of regular sugar muddled against the limes brings out more lime oil from the zest and you get a broader range of lime flavor in the drink.

      2. re: streetgourmetla

        SGLA- I just wanted to say that you left a bit out when you say that cachaca is fermented with maize flour. Maize flour has no ability to ferment anything, yeast does that. Industrial cachaca is fermented with distillers yeast developed for their process. Artisanal Cachaca is actually fermented with a wild/spontaneous yeast and sometimes with the addition of a rice and maize based yeast called fermento caipira, also called fuba. The wild yeasts and the fuba give the real character and uniqueness to the artisanal cachaca.

        One thing I want to add, cachaca has to be made with sugarcane that is pressed for juice less than 24 hours after it is cut, and then fermentation started immediately.

        Industrial cachaca is made in continuous column stills, artisanal cachaca is made in copper pot stills.

        If you want to know just about everything there is to know about cachaca buy a copy of The Soul of Brazil by Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown. It's hard to find even though it came out last year. you can get it here.

        1. re: JMF

          Thanks for further defining, and it was the addition of Fuba that I was referring to.The technical process, while unique, still falls under a US definition of rum, which cachaca producers have fought.

          For me, the process is important in understanding but the flavor and functionality are more the clincher for me, which I believe is the question the OP is asking. Doing a side by side comparison will speak volumes.

          If you want to know everything there is to know about cachaca go to Brasil, go to Minas Gerais, go to Salinas, drink cocteis, batidas, and try artisanal bottles at botecos and bars.Drink Vale Verde, Boazinha, Prazer de Minas, Germana,Da Tulha, Maria da Cruz,etc. Go to a cachaceiria in Rio like Academia da Cachaca or one in Sao Paulo or Minas.Enjot the many batidas, cachaca cocktails with fruit and condensed milk.I had two of the most incredible cocktails ever in Sao Paulo, one with starfruit and the other with fresh passionfruit, seeds included.IN Brasil it all makes sense, rum is rum and cachaca e cachaca, bobo. Thanks for the book recommendation.

      3. Thanks all for your comments and suggestions. I am still not getting a full picture but will pick up that book as well as a bottle or two. The difference between rum and cachaca is simple enough, but other than maybe the yeasts, it sounds quite similar to the Martinique rhum agricoles.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Icantread

          Well personally I would start with the taste, obviously you already have a good handle on your rum.There is a quality in cachaca the is so different than any spirit I've ever tasted.Fennel is a common taste that turned up in the Academia de Cachaca book's tasting notes.Also, a wider variety of wood is used in the aging process, I believe.Oak is the most common, but also Jequitiba and other indigenous woods.There is also a pretty wide range in the years in a barrel for cachaca.After your frist sniff and taste it's all over though, it will be crystal clear.

          1. I'm so glad I'm stumbled across this. We spend time in Rio and only in the last year or two I read that cachaca is a rum. Obviously in a U.S. publication - especially since I can't read enough Portuguese to glean that info :) Before that, when describing it to others, we called it a sugar cane liquor. I won't ever call it rum again. And, yes, caiparinhas can be quite potent. Have two or even three (eek) with feijoada on a Saturday afternoon and plan on a nice, long nap!!!

            4 Replies
            1. re: c oliver

              I also discovered cachaca in Brazil when our van driver ducked into a boteco to get some well cachaca and none of the Brazilians I was with would drink it straight with me.I soon discovered why.Awful, harsh, and throat burning, but I've been hooked ever since.Several thousand caipirinhas and batidas later I had a glass of Angelica cachaca in a cigar bar in Sao Paulo, my first brush with a sipping cachaca, and what a revelation it was.

              When I came back from a trip in 2004 I hadn't seen any cachacas here in the US, but after a trip in 2006 I finally saw some in a Bevmo or similar type of place.And, I too was perplexed by the cachaca rum or brazilian rum label.When I told my Brazilian wife she about died.

              1. re: streetgourmetla

                so - back to the mount gay brandy - I'm planning to make some white sangria for a dinner party and it calls for brandy. I was wondering what you think about using the mount gay instead of traditional brandy for this recipe

                1. re: mizB

                  don't know this bottle, is the flavor close to a brandy. I make very few cocktails and am much better at ordering them and drinking them, than cocktailing. I would love to hear how it turns out though.

                  1. re: mizB

                    My initial reaction would be that there's an extra sweetness and funk to the Mount Gay over the brandy that would require less fruit/sweeteners in the sangria. If you go with an aged rhum agricole, it would pair far better. I personally would avoid a cachaca in there.

              2. I am not at all an expert on Cachaca, but to my palate they taste fairly similar to the other Cane rums (not molasses rums) of the world including Rhum Agricole made in Martinique and elsewhere. The distinct, delicious grassy taste of cane rums, to me is fairly universal.

                I don't doubt for a second that the interesting yeasts, stills, woods for aging, and other methods used in Brasil take the art in interesting and special directions, but if it is fermented from cane juice it is Rum. Just like all Scotch is whiskey, at least in English, all Cachaca is rum. Certainly not all cane rums are Cachaca, etc. etc.

                5 Replies
                1. re: StriperGuy

                  Personally, I do not have much experience with cachaca, but they tend to have a disjointed fruity and industrial taste ("this tastes like berries and an iron gear")t hat I have not found in rhum agricole. Also, don't want to disappoint you, but I have not actually tasted any gears.

                  1. re: Icantread

                    Well, if you've only had industrial grade cacachas here in the US, that might be your experience, but if you haven't tried the fine cachacas of Minas or the aged varieties, then that would be a very limited perspective.

                    What fine cachacas have you had?

                  2. re: StriperGuy

                    Having tasted 70+ cachacas in Brazil and a regualr drinker of Rhum agricoles i would disagree. Scotch, bourbon, Irish whiskey, Tennessee whiskey all taste different. And, there is only a short list of fine cachacas even available in the states, like 3-4 bottles, like Weber Haus.

                    We can get a fair selection of Rhum agricoles here, and mostly cocktail grade cachacas.
                    I've got over 25 bottles at home all brought here from Brazil and they have their own character. I love both, but use them differently.

                    1. re: streetgourmetla

                      What brands and bottlings do you recommend that you've seen in the US?

                      1. re: davis_sq_pro

                        Weber Haus Premium is available and so is Germana.In LA it's at places like Beverage Warehouse and I've seen it at Rivera restaurant in Downtown LA.

                        Those are well respected brands among cachaca drinkers in Brazil. The German is under $30, too. These you can drink neat, really nice in a chilled cognac glass.