100 Brazilian Dishes: Artisanal Cachaça

Talk about learning the hard way: I have learned there are different grades of artisanal cachaça. All are made from sugar cane, but it seems that it makes a huge difference what type of sugar cane is used and how young (thus juicier) the cane is.  How did I learn this?  What bumps and bruises did I suffer along the way to enlightenment? The story begins with…

The background: On the farm we have three jabuticaba trees. They produce massive amounts of fruit at least twice a year. It breaks my frugal heart to see it all laying on the ground.

Attempt #1: Big Dreams, Small Town

Making Jabuticaba Liquor

Initially we dreamed of making wine out of all this wealth. Sadly, every wine-making guide I have seen calls for air-locks and hydrometers and titration kits and Campden tablets–all things that are impossible to find anywhere near our little rural town. So much for that.

Attempt #2: Recipes d’Povo

In my searches for wine recipes I ran across lots of recipes for jabuticaba liquor. And they were simple! Now here was something we could do. I was charmed by one that was attributed to someone’s grandma and had delightfully ambiguous measurements like “um prato fundo” (a deep plate) of jabuticaba. So… A bowl? A deeply curved plate? Or the prato fundo used in the market to measure dry goods (which is actually the size of those lunch ladies’ canned vegetable cans). Your guess is as good as mine, but clearly I had stumbled on the recipes d’povo (of the people) and I was off and running.

All the liquor recipes call for cachaça or grain alcohol. Friends and family gobbled up the first small test batch. My father-in-law argued that his bottle was evaporating because there was no way he had drunk it all. Many people wanted to know if they could buy some. Now we’re talking!

Attempt #3: Oops

Bolstered by all the critical acclaim, I set out to make a larger batch for sale. The place I went to buy the cachaça the first time was closed, so when I stopped at the shop next to my husband’s work to buy the sugar I asked I they sold cachaça. This place was called “Distribuidora” and the other place was called “Distribuidora,” so safe bet, right? Two things should have clued me in that this wasn’t a good idea:

  1. the cachaça was 1/2 the price of my usual distribuidora;
  2. as a general rule, one probably shouldn’t buy anything alcoholic in a place named after farm animals (“Distribuidora El Bode” = The Goat’s Warehouse)

Really, what was I thinking?  I was thinking of my spoiling berries and my upcoming trip back to the USA and my timeline that was not going to allow for a second trip into town. I packed up my cheap-o cachaça (half price! If this works I’m going to rake it in!) and went home to set my berries brewing.

One month later we opened up the barrel to find very tasty liquor that gives you a hell of a headache if you do anything more than sip it slowly (a fact revealed to us by my father-in-law who snuck a few cups on the sly–that’ll teach him!). Oops.

For the past few weeks I have had to endure endless laughter about my ignorant mistake, many comments about how that cachaça will make your ankles swell (ankles? I never, ever in my life have worried about my ankles when hung over, but there you have it: the Brazilian definition of dangerously cheap alcohol), and the family alcoholic has given me multiple “helpful” lectures on his area of expertise: quality cachaça and where to buy it (also being the family alcoholic he is more likely to lecture me when he has been drinking and therefore less likely to remember that he has already lectured me, God bless him). Lesson learned. Ingrained. Never gonna forget it. Thanks.

Since everyone told me I needed to buy “the good stuff” I swallowed my pride and set out to survey the family drinkers for where to get the best buy. This, of course, involved more rehashing of the amusing reasons for my survey and more lectures.  Sigh.

IMG_1995[1]
The good stuff. Which looks just like the stuff that might just make you blind.
Survey Results

It turns out we have a cousin for every occasion. The best artisanal cachaça in town is “onde-Vam” (Vam’s Place, which is not the real name of the store but it might as well be). Vam is a cousin of my husband’s and apparently uses the best ingredients. A two liter bottle of good artisanal cachaça can be had for R$6, or USD$3. I bought 20 liters for use with this harvest, which was mildly amusing: li’l pretty female American me with my broken Portuguese in this bar of all male cachaçeros buying ridiculous amounts of alcohol. Not quite what they expected.

So I have sampled the best artisanal cachaça in town. What can I tell you about it? It’s smooth, that’s for sure.  That being said, it does help you understand the term “firewater.”  That Brazilian men drink large amounts of this stuff amazes me.  In fact, it’s tradition for farm workers to have a shot of this pinga after lunch. My few sips left me looped. It’s amazing anything ever gets done around here.  Actually, that may explain a lot.

Attempt #4: Nothing but the best

The jabuticaba liquor will be ready in 30 days, for those who want to swing by for a sample.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. LOL! I loved this post, especially imagining an American female walking into a rural Brazilian bar and embarassing one of the local male farmhands by ordering bucketloads of cachaça – right after his ‘wimpy’ order of a full cup. Classic.
    On a sidenote I really do think cachaça consumption probably reaches epidemic levels in many rural regions, it’s like Brazilian countryside crack, or meth. A terrible plague for many families I bet.
    Oh, I wonder if you could use that Jabuticaba in a yogurt recipe ( sans cachaça svp).
    http://ummango.blogspot.com.br/2012/10/how-to-make-yogurt.html

    1. Malvina says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! I must admit I was more than a little intimidated to walk into that bar. One more point in the “building my chutzpah” category….
      It really is epidemic out here. It’s so cheap; much cheaper than beer and much harder an alcohol. You can buy 4L of pinga for the cost of one 12pack of beer. It’s just ridiculous & is destroying familes. Especially in these rural towns where there’s not much else to do than watch TV and get drunk, and the odds of someone having the resources to have a hobby or the ability to change their routine for the better is next-to-nil. And avoiding your drinking buddies? In a town of 6,000? Forget about it. Sigh. So sad.
      That link is great & very useful! (I’ve been trying to make yogurt from our milk, but none of the cultures have been right so far) Thanks so much!

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