Cachaca, pronounced "ka-SHAH-suh," is a Brazilian sugarcane spirit that differs from rum in that it's crafted from fermented sugarcane juice rather than molasses—the dark, oozy byproduct of turning sugarcane into sugar. Cachaca is commonly used to make the caipirinha, pronounced "kai-peer-EEN-yah," a simple cocktail made with muddled limes and sugar.
Boca Loca, $24.95
Distilled from organic, fresh-pressed sugarcane grown north of Rio de Janeiro, Boca Loca has a hot, vanilla-laced nose with hints of citrus and olive brine. The palate does a complete 180, with pleasant, caramel dessert flavors that are even more pronounced on ice. This was the panel's top choice and the all-around-favorite for making caipirinhas.
Crafted by a 75-year-old family business in northeast Brazil, Pitu is named for the red, shrimp-like creature on its label. The nose had a pronounced tequila vibe, with smoky, vegetal notes likened to both mezcal and a "beach campfire." On the palate, those smoky flavors were still detectable, along with a subtle sweetness. This was the panel's least favorite.
The Destilaria Maison Leblon crafts its cachaça in copper pot stills and ages the spirit in French XO cognac oak casks for up to six months. The aging lends the booze light caramel and vanilla notes on the nose but not enough to mask the fruity banana flavors, which tasters likened to "caramelized plantains" and "bananas Foster." The palate was much milder, with neutral, almost vodka like smoothness and a hint of sugary sweetness. On ice, Leblon has nice body and makes a great sipper.