The Ipanema margarita at Texas de Brazil uses cachaça instead of tequila.
Texas de Brazil
At a recent cocktail making class held at Milwaukee’s Texas de Brazil Churrascaria, we were asked what’s the third most produced spirit in the world.
If you thought whiskey or rum, you were wrong. It’s cachaça. Pronounced “cah-shah-sah,” it is the national spirit of Brazil. In terms of sales, it falls right behind vodka and shochu (also sometimes mispronounced and misunderstood). “It really is the third-most popular spirit in the world,” says Washington Silva, general manager of Milwaukee’s Texas de Brazil.
Cachaça is made directly from sugar cane juice that is fermented, and some people think it is a type of rum, but rum is made from byproducts of sugar cane, most often, from molasses that is derived from sugar cane. So, while they both come from sugar cane, they start out with entirely different ingredients, and the end products are completely different. “Since rum is made with molasses, it typically has a higher sugar content than cachaça,” says Rodrigo Davila, director of wine and spirits for Texas de Brazil.
Part of the confusion lies within the history of importing cachaça to the United States. Until 2013, it was labeled as “Brazilian rum.” The reason for this mislabeling is that Brazil didn’t want to label bourbon as a distinctly American product so payback was the mislabeling of cachaça. While the products are now correctly labeled, confusion still arises.
Silva, who hails from Brazil and moved to Milwaukee in the middle of last year’s polar vortex in February, says that his Brazilian steakhouse goes through hundreds of cases of cachaça every week. Much of it goes into Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha, which is basically muddled lime and sugar mixed with cachaça. “It’s our country’s national cocktail,” Davila says.
Texas de Brazil could be the biggest importer or user of cachaça in the United States, but restaurant officials can’t confirm this. “While we cannot confirm we are the biggest, we are definitely one of the biggest,” Davila says. “The number of caipirinhas we make continues to increase every year as we open more locations, but right now, we serve over a half a million of these cocktails in our restaurants every year.”
Most of the cachaça Texas de Brazil imports goes into caipirinhas, but it’s also served straight-up, subs for tequila in the Ipanema margarita, replaces rum in the Brazilian mojito, as well as several original cocktails like the Brazilian Rose (cachaça, passionfruit juice and Grand Marnier), the Samba (a lemonade-like concoction), and the Bahia Breeze (basically a cachaça pina colada). “The Ipanema margarita is another guest favorite,” Davila says. “It has the same ingredients as a traditional margarita, and the margarita is the most popular cocktail in the United States so it makes sense.”
Caipirinhas and other cocktails using cachaça pair well with the meats because of the acidity in the drinks.
“We believe that pairing Brazilian cuisine with its national beverage enhances the dining experience,” Davila says. “Additionally, cachaça is believed to stimulate your appetite, making it the perfect start to your meal.”