Amazonia

Amazonia.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

One of my favorite moments in Saturday Night Live history is the “More Cowbell” bit featuring Will Ferrell and, most notably, Christopher Walken. Renowned record producer Bruce Dickinson (Walken) orchestrates Blue Öyster Cult’s recording of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” At each new take of the song, Dickinson instructs the percussionist Gene Frenkle (Ferrell) to contribute more and more cowbell. Dickinson shouts, “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.”

Don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this… for me the spotlit spirit this week, cachaça, is a sort of cowbell. One of the basic spirits in South America, it’s nonetheless exotic for most cocktailians and, yes, like cowbells, a little goes a long way.

One difference: I enjoy cachaça much more than cowbell. Cachaça hails from Brazil and was first distilled by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century. It starts with fermented sugarcane juice rather than the cooked sap. Rums start from molasses and other forms of processed sugar, but cachaça offers a much fresher, more natural, almost woody flavor. Where rum might remind you of pralines, cachaça evokes chewing on those sugarcane logs you can still find in the grocery produce section.

This post began when, visiting my sister last weekend, I checked out her liquor cabinet (a bad habit I’ve developed) and discovered three-quarters of a bottle of cachaça left over from a previous visit and previous cocktail. Loving cachaça as I do, I marveled at how she managed to hang onto it, and she said, “I have no idea what to do with it.”

Of course. Cachaça—and cowbell—isn’t for everyone, but, for me, once you have some, it begs to be used. My personal mission became finding the perfect drink for my sister. So I searched the web and found, among the top five cachaça cocktails, the Amazonia, one devised by Naren Young at the Bobo Restaurant in New York in 2008. It doesn’t actually feature that much of the Brazilian spirit, but, along with sparkling wine, it adds a prominent note. A bonus is that it includes mint, which apparently is busy taking over my brother’s and sister’s gardens.

Here’s the recipe (makes one cocktail):

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cachaça
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 8 to 10 ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) Champagne or any sparkling wine
  • 1 apple slice

In cocktail shaker, stir together cachaça and mint. Using wooden muddler or spoon, pound and press just until mint is bruised. Add ice, apple juice, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Strain into Champagne glass. Top with Champagne. Place apple slice in drink and serve immediately.

Who knows what Jonathan thinks about cachaça (or cowbell), but I’m always up for finding alternative uses for some of the bottles proliferating in our liquor cabinet.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

amazonia.jbmI have some pretty standard fears and a few that may be less normal. Thirteen is my lucky number so no problem with triskaidekaphobia, but I cannot say the same about heights (acrophobia), which must be genetic since I share that trait with our mother. One of my somewhat more peculiar fears, actually less a fear than the fact that they creep me out, is coulrophobia or the fear of clowns. Have you heard the annoying way they all laugh? Now, thanks to David, I have a fear of commas. There is no official phobia for that since the Greek and Latin for comma is essentially comma.

David told me last week that he does need to do some occasional editing especially when it comes to my violation of the Oxford comma rules. That he edits my contributions, for clarity and grammar not content, is no surprise and is welcome. He is a professional after all. I do take some pride in my use of our native language, though, and now I plan to write with nary a pause unless absolutely necessary.

By now this should make one wonder if I even tried the drink this week or if I tried too many. I did try it and loved it. We could probably create a list of our favorite drinks that are topped with sparkling wine, and it would be a matter of splitting hairs between the best of the best. There is something about that additive that elevates and enhances a drink. The only drawback, as I have mentioned before, is that once you open that bottle of bubbly you need to use it.

There are not too many variations of the Amazonia, but one that I did find suggested white cranberry juice instead to the apple juice. Looking for a more clear drink I chose that route although I could only find peach/white cranberry. It is such a small amount that there is probably not much difference other than there is an interesting sweetness. The garnishes were an apple slice, blueberry and raspberry. The last two were just because I have both those plants in my yard, and the total harvest is so small that I wanted to showcase them. Might have wiped out the total raspberry haul in one round of drinks depending on what the deer miss over the next week.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I should invest in champagne splits and try topping all of my drinks with it.

David’s Take: I gotta have more cachaça. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cachaça… and (personal taste) maybe a little less sparkling wine.

Next week (Proposed By: Jonathan):

The very first drink in this blog came from Garden and Gun magazine. I am suggesting another called the Redless Snapper that was created at Foundation bar in Raleigh and featured in an article in the magazine about local spirits. I could be accused of making another shameless attempt at a sponsorship from Cardinal gin but the truth is I have been trying to find a lighter version of the Bloody Mary. This drink is a variation on the Red Snapper (the gin version of Bloody Mary) and uses tomato water in lieu of tomato juice. Making that tomato water is a little complicated, so I apologize in advance to anyone making these drinks along with us.

Advertisements

Caipirinha

CachacaProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The World Cup in Brazil should have been your introduction to this cocktail, but if not get ready for the Olympics next year. We have tried a couple of cachaça cocktails, the batida and the caipirinha de uva, but had not tried this classic yet. Considered one of the 7 most basic cocktails, it is simple to make and will vary with each version of cachaça that you try. There is little doubt that the popularity of the Olympics and the simplicity of the drink will make it the cocktail of the summer next year.

To start with, cachaça is a sugar cane spirit produced almost entirely in Brazil. Rum is also a sugar cane spirit at its most basic, but the difference is that rum is produced from the molasses left at the end of sugar production while cachaça is made from fermented sugarcane. Rhum Agricole is similarly produced straight from the sugarcane. The result is a liquor that varies with each type of sugarcane or the region in which it is grown.

Cachaça and the caipirinha made with it have been around long enough that there are a number of versions of the history of both. Cachaça production probably dates to the 1500’s and Portuguese influence on Brazil. The spirit was then mixed with lime and sugar to cut the harsh taste that was distinctive of early cachaças. Much like many of the other rum and citrus drinks there also has to be truth to the mix being popular for sailors as a combination of inebriant and way to ward off scurvy.

Though a couple of translations of caipirinha exist, both speak to its popularity with the masses. One source indicates that it means “little countryside drink” while another says it is “little peasant girl.” Either way it is the traditional way to serve cachaça and varies with each example of the Brazilian spirit. I offered that if David preferred using Rhum Agricole, a spirit produced primarily in Martinique, he could make a Ti’ (short for petit) Punch which is also a basic mix of spirit, sugar and lime and another indicator that this cocktail has multiple origins.

There are a few variations of the recipe for a caipirinha but they all follow the simple mix of 2 ounces cachaça, half a lime and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. I made three versions (for three people), one with 2 teaspoons of demerara sugar, one with 2 teaspoons of leftover vanilla rich simple syrup from last week, and the third with 3 teaspoons standard simple syrup. All three included cutting the lime into smaller wedges, muddling with the sugar, and then adding c cachaça and ice. The demerara may have been the most successful if for no other reason than the rough crystals making the muddling easier. The cachaça was a gold version from Ypioca, and I would have tried one with Leblon, but discovered it was all gone. Wonder how that happened.

Here’s David’s Review:

CappydickUnfortunately much of what I know of Brazil derives from a report I gave in Ms. Cullen’s seventh grade social studies class, and caipirinha, I’m sure, didn’t make my parade of geography, politics, exports, imports, flora, fauna, and celebrations.

However, it’s easy to imagine caipirinha as a sort of national cocktail. It’s direct and simple—just juice, sugar, and spirit—but the inclusion of cachaça also makes it distinctive. The directions seemed complicated at first, but I can see, with a little practice, concocting the drink might become as unconscious as mixing a martini.

And, if you like cachaça, you stand a good chance of liking this drink. And I do like it. Describing how something tastes is never easy because you have to resort to nebulous vocabulary and/or comparisons, but I’d say cachaça is rum’s uncultured cousin. Rum seems refined to achieve a molassy, aged sophistication, but cachaça is more forthright, almost like an alcoholic version of coconut milk fresh out of the nut, intensely organic and somehow dense, just a step past chewing on a sugar cane or cactus fruit. I know it sounds a little dicey to say cachaça’s smells and tastes “funky”—especially because I don’t mean like James Brown, but like fruit just past ripened. Still, there’s something real about cachaça, as if someone just made it instead of synthesizing it in a laboratory.

With the caipirinha, it helps that lime adds an acidic counterpoint and also that, by muddling the lime, you invite some welcome bitterness. As I used confectioner’s sugar, the sweetness diffused nicely through the liquid without becoming over-sweet or dominating the cachaça.

I don’t recall this from my seventh grade report, but I’ve read that Brazilians love their sweets, and, as Jonathan did, I’d advise playing with the type and quantity of sugar you include in your recipe. And I do mean your recipe because—if you like caipirinhas—you’ll want to spend some time perfecting your version of it. As many of our other cocktails have demonstrated, infinite subtlety arises from playing around with a few simple ingredients, and I’d be willing to bet every Brazilian has some secret to impart about making the proper caipirinha.

David’s Take: If you’re searching for a worthy pursuit, you could do worse than devoting yourself to making the perfect caipirinha.

Jonathan’s Take: Cachaça, and the caipirinhas made with it, varies with each type. Since it is so distinctive, choose your cachaça wisely.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, we’ve been skirting the Martini, trying variations that swap out one ingredient or experimenting with exotic secondary ingredients. This week, I thought “Maybe it’s time to just go for for it, to make a damn Martini already,” but then I thought, “Nope.” So I’m proposing yet another alternate, one that comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual of 1882 and is called The Tuxedo. It includes dry vermouth but also a little Maraschino liqueur and an absinthe wash, and I’m making mine with Old Tom gin, true to the original.