CACHAÇA DISCOVERED BY AVUÁ - EP. 1 - DAVID WONDRICH - Mapa da Cachaça
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CACHAÇA DISCOVERED BY AVUÁ – EP. 1 – DAVID WONDRICH

28 de 04 de 2016

Nate Whitehouse:
Hi Everybody. Thanks for joining the Avuá Cachaça Interview Series., the first of its kind. We have with us today Dave Wondrich, the noted cocktail historian in spirits and all things good drinking, as well as Felipe Jannuzzi from Mapa da Cachaca. So, first of all thank you guys very much for being on this podcast.

David Wondrich:
It’s a pleasure. Very glad to be here.

Felipe Jannuzzi:
Thank you Nate.

Nate:
Awesome. Dave, you recently traveled to Brazil, which I believe was for the first time. We were there together, which was, at least for me, a very very interesting experience. At the time, you had mentioned that it had reminded you of your childhood experiences in Sicily, but tell me just what your impressions of the country were.

Dave:
It’s a fascinating country. I found it incredibly lively, a young country, dynamic, but also very mysterious, in that once you get out of the cities, these roads go down to two lanes and just go on forever in this enormous and very complicated backcountry. I found that fascinating that there is still almost this unknown Brazil outside of the big cities, that’s huge and goes on and on. I was blown away by that.

Nate:
Yeah, I think that’s something that I always found interesting, and Felipe, you’ve talked a lot about how you have gone to different alambiques across the course of your travels in cachaca, and I’m sure there’s been a lot of different landscapes across that time as well.

Felipe:
You know, I’ve spent about six years doing that. I think that’s the main reason why I am doing this, you know? It’s always a surprise when you get on the road and you find different types of cachaca production made by different people in a different climate, and there’s always a lot of stories and also a lot of history behind it. It’s a lot about how Brazil was created. I go to cities where they have been producing cachaca for 200, 300, 400 years. So it’s always something that gets me excited to keep doing that. And brazil is so big, that I probably will do that for the next 10 years and keep finding something different.

Dave:
I don’t think you could run out!

Felipe:
No, no. So, I totally get it what Dave is talking about. You get very impressed, and you have the big surprises, like the landscape. You’re dirving and then an hour later you find a totally different kind of climate and landscape. But also the small details, how people react, the gastronomy, that’s very interesting for me. That’s the sort of thing that I want to write, and talk about, drinking cachaca. It’s not only spirits we are talking about, but a whole cultural and historical context.

Nate:
Dave, I remember you and I had a very lovely day bouncing around Cocapabana and Ipanema, and we sat down and tasted a bunch of different cachacas at Acadamia da Cachaca in Leblon. What really stuck out to you having visitied Brazil and trying different cachacas when you were there?

Dave:
Well, it’s the huge variety that Brazil has of cachaca. It’s essentially a simple distillate, but the after-distillation treatment is so varied, there are so many different types of wood that it gets aged in., there are so many different distilling styles all based, basically, on the same raw material. You definitely taste terroir in that. T he cane is different in different parts of the country. It’s the vast variety; there is a whole ecosystem in sugarcane.

Nate:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that was the interesting thing for me about cachaca. Trying all the different wood agings.

David Wondrich - Cachaça Discoved

David Wondrich is our first guest at the podcast series Cachaça Discovered

Felipe:
When talking about sugarcane, the whole world knows about rum from sugarcane, and cachaca is made from the sugarcane juice, and we know that in some places lke in Paraty it’s made from the sugarcane juice or even to the Northeast they used to do it in the way they do it with the rum, with molasses, so it’s still a very new spirit, you know? People understand what rum is but they still try to understand what is cachaca, and one thing that is always interesting to talk about is the history, and that’s something that I heard. Nate was kind enough to record your last lecture that you did in New York, and I thought it was really interesting to hear your history of the sugarcane spirits and how first created in India, and I have a big question: which is the oldest, is the sugarcane spirit here in Brazil, or the sugarcane spirit made in the Caribbean. Can we say that cachaca is maybe older, for example?

Dave:
I don’t think we have any way of proving it, you know? But I think it is.. It’s documented in cachaca in the 1530s, and that was very early in the Americas, then again sugaracane was being planted I the Caribbean islands already in the 1490s, so we don’t know; it’s a problem of record-keeping, it’s a problem of people bothering to talk about it or write it down. In terms of documented, yes, it seems to be the earlier than anything documented in the Caribbean. But it sort of doesn’t matter, because it’s so much older in India, you know, and India it’s documented in the 1200s and it goes back probably to prehistoric times, so you know it’s complicated. We don’t know that sugarcane spirit in India affected the Portuguese who were colonizing India and then colonizing Brazil. We just don’t know the answers on that.

Nate:
It’s interesting how the trade networks; it’s seemingly very hard to trace when these things happened. It’s an interesting discussion point but it’s not always super useful to say well who is the first at this, but it is interesting to see how these technologies moved and particularly in the New World and the impact it had on the culture at the time.

Dave:
I’m always less interested in who the absolute first person was; I’m more interested in who the first person to make a market with it, you know, to make an impact. The same goes with cocktails. It’s less interesting to know who first mixed the ingredients, and more important to know who made it famous, who made it an institution. The same with these spirits, who built the industry, who made it more than just an experiment. Brazil is definitely first on that. There was an industry there based on sugarcane spirits dating back to the 1530s before anything documented in the Caribbean, and when it did come to the Caribbean it probably came with Brazilian or Dutch-Brazilian distillers, so it’s a complicated network of trade for sure.

Nate:
We often speak of the difference between industrial and artisanal cachaca. That’s I think a convenient way of explaning to people what the different areas of cachaca area, and I think this is something that both Felipe and I feel is important to explain to people what it is. But how do you see this relating to the perception of cachaca? Do you see this as being analogous to the perception of mixto tequila and blue agave tequila? Do you view this as a useful distinction, having visited Brazil?

Dave:
Personally, I do. I think they are two completely different spirits. The industrial cachacas I’ve had range in quality from pretty good to really bad. All have a similar kind of burnt sugarcane note to it, the same thing you find handled with a little more finesse in rhum agricole. Then you taste the artisanal ones, and those are some of the softest spirits I’ve ever had: delicate, subtle, clean, bright, without any burnt notes, they are very carefully treated, at tleast the good ones, and even the medium ones are close.

Felipe:
My whole work is to learn about the artisanal cachasa. What I’ve found is the most difficult thing here is to explain the difference between the artisanal and industrial cachacas. What we are seeing now in the market is especially because of the wood aging, the industrial cachacas are labeling themselves as a premium product

Dave:
[Laughs]

Felipe:
It’s become even harder to explain the difference between one that is made with natural fermentation, hand harvesting and then of course copper alembics, and for sure I know that a lot of the prejudice that cachaca has is that people had a really bad experience drinking industrial cachacas. So we want to understand how we can be more effective, how we can show people from the US and Europe, and also here in Brazil, this whole context about cultural history and technology. I always want to hear from specialist like you, how do you explain thes two totally different universes, but with the same name, that legally they are the same product?

Dave:
They are two completely different products [laughs]. There’s almost nothing in common when you taste them. You taste artistanal ones and those are this very subtle, fragrant spirit that is unique and you know best for sipping. It’s a sugarcane brandy, it’s not like a cheap tequila for mixing in drink. I think the tequila thing is kind of right, people are appreciating more and more well made tequila and especially mescal. Mezcal is less going into cocktail and more for people sipping it straight. That’s what I see people doing in Brazil with the artisanal cachacas, you maybe get a little bottle of cold beer on the side and you have a little cup of excellent, clean, fragrant cachaca. That’s much better than drowning it in a caipirinha, even though I like a nice caipirinha, but it seems like a waste.

Felipe:
You know I think you said a word before that I think is totally interesting, you know when you say terroir. I’d really like to understand if we can promote different kinds of terroir. That can be the flag for aristanal cachacas.

Dave:
You know I think you can. I think what you have to do is show people. When I went to Fazenda da Quinta [where Avuá is distilled] and also Pedro Branca, they were both amazing but you know Fazenda da Quinta is another world. That’s distilling out of the 1700s there. It’s very, very old . Everthing was done by hand. The fields were cut by hand, they weren’t burnt first. The sugarcaene was crushed with a waterwheel. It was really old world. It really puts into focus what artisanal distilling is, what traditional distilling is; it’s really more than artisanal, it’s traditional, deeply traditional. You don’t see that really; you see it ome in cognac, you don’t see it in most places. You don’t see that level of hand=made. That makes it a really human product. And each farm makes its own is an adveritising of itself if you could just show people.

Nate:
One thing, maybe a bit of a self-interested comment here for the listener. Fazenda da Quinta is where Avua is produced.

Felipe:
What I’m learning from my travels is that you have this whole unique thing like different landscapes and climates, but you also have the cultural contexts. When you travel to the north of Minas Gerais, places like Salinas, which is a special landscape, what you call here Serrado, very dry very hot. You get a sugarcane with a lot of sugar in it, high brix. What I found interestin g is that they are all used to age cachaca in many years in large balsam b,arrels. You have 8, 10 year cachaca aged in balsmo, very strong, very unique. Then when you go to the south, you see people with a different kind of mentatlity for cachaca production, it’s lower alcohol, they lot of oak and they are toasting Brazilian woods like amburana. That’s very very interesting because you have these worlds of terroir just by travelling 300, 400 kilometers, what we want to understand more about it.

Dave:
I think there’s a market for that. That’s the kind of thing people get very interested in these days, they get very geeky about it these days. I’m seeing more and more artisanal cachacas of the oaky kind. I’m not convinced that’s the way to go to bring in more oak, because it tends to step on what makes the spirit unique. But I’d like to see more of these things like the big tanks the balsam tanks, things like that, some of these traiditonal woods, things that are just different. That’s a unique selling proposition, as we say. If you have something that nobody else makes that’s delicious.

Felipe:
And also very curious to see how the cocktail world will react to cachaca aged in amburana, balsam, ariraba, mixed with different fruits, different ingredients. We have the sipping market but I’m also interested to see how the cocktail industrywill use these different kinds of cachacas in woods.

Dave:
It will take some education, because right now the cocktail industry the young people behind the bars are very interested in big strong flavors. Tons of huge mescal flvors, and amaros etc. But cachacas are a softer subtler palate of flavors. So they need to learn how to mix with those, you can’t treat them the same way, it’s not your typical raw third-world spirit that you can kick around a little bit. It’s not like these funky, strong rums. It’s a very delicate spirit, which is for me the most interesting part of it,but it takes some education for sure.

Nate:
To your point about education, at least from my perspective, going around spreading the gospel of cachaca with Avua, we’ve seen kind of a resurgence of cachaca outside of Brazil. I think a lot of that is inspired by the availability of high quality cachacas like ourselves, Avua, Novo Fogo, and other quality cachacas, and the craft cocktail movement kind of latching onto that. Do you think the cachaca market will export, US Europe other places and also internally in Brazil, do you think that will develop to support more artisanal brands and more knowledgable consumers outside of Brazil and what role do you see Avua playing in that?

Dave:
Me personally, I think that Avua, Novo Fogo a couple others are right now the sole well-distributed artisanal brands. I think we need more on the market so people can see that it’s a movement, so people can sense the weight behind it, the variety. You guys are pioneers, I know in the early 2000s, a man named Ollie Berlic tried bringin it a number of artisanal cachacas, very lovely all of tthem, some really good brands from Brazil. But it was just one guy and he just couldn’t get it to take off. And I think it takes a number of people knocking on the door. And you guys right nowas pioneers that’s really important. Other people need to come in I think. Otherwise it gets lost on the shelf, and you don’t sense that this artisanal thing is big and important and a huge part of Brazilian culture, because otherwise all you get is caipirinha juice, industrial stuff. And some of those brands make fine caipirinhas and I have nothing against them, but they are not the same thing. We need a chorus of voices to remind people of that, that’s my opinion anyway.

Nate:
That’s an interesting point, it reminds me a comment a bartender friend of mine here in Brooklyn made about a month ago. She said I really see a tremendous amount of support from the bartending community for Avua, and I said, thank you that’s great, do you see a movement in cachaca. And she said, well, we’re not quite there with cachaca yet. She wanted to see it there, she wanted to see other great, and differentiated brands available. I think we’re starting to see it, but it’s not quite to an overwhelming movement.

Dave:
Up until most of the marketing we’ve seen here has been lifestyle marketing, like party in Ipanema type advertising. That’s fine if you’re selling industrial cachaca for cheap. But the people that really break fine spirits in this country, who really pick them up and spread to their friends, they are not those people. They are not buying stuff for lifestyle; they’re buying stuff for connoisseurship, they’re buying stuff out of knowledge let’s say, not here’s new party juice. And it needs to be marketing much more like you market small estate armagnacs. Every estate is there on the label and you know where it comes from. It’s almost like wine marketing, that these brands have a real terroir, there’s a real terroir, it’s not something that comes from a marketing department somewhere. I think that’s the best story there is for artisanal cachaca.

Felipe:
I agree. It’s also very exciting, because this is something that’s happening for many many years, and only now are we telling this story. And only now the producers understand that these stories can be good for their market value as well. We want really authentic cachaças like Novo Fogo and Avua, that really get concerned bout spreading their message, and the main message is really the terrorir. Where they come from, what techniques the use. One of the things I heard in your lecture last year was how surprised you were about the shape of the alembique.

Dave:
Oh you never see those anywhere except in Brazil and maybe Portugal!

Felipe:
So why are the producers not talking about the shape of the alembique? This is really interesting for myself and also, I think, for the whole market. I think we need to talk more about the production process and how it’s really different from other spirits.

Dave:
I think so too. It’s unique and, you know, it’s a hell of a story. You go to a place like Fazenda da Quinta and qalk through the process, and there’s nothing in the world like that, or very little, being made at that level of craft at that level of hand –made, at that level of simplicity. It’s very inspiring to see people doing that. It’s hard to make, it’s expensive to make, but it’s also very beautiful. It makes a beautiful spirit, one that’s almost vibrant with terroir. And I think people need to understand more of that and less that this is something you wear in the beach wearing a bikini and hitting a volleyball back and forth. Which is fine but it’s missing an important part of the market.

Nate:
I know Dave has to run here, but had a couple last more short questions. The first is that Sasha Petraske always used to say that he thought the caipirinha for him was the classic peasant cocktail, which is always an interesting way of looking at it. Basically you hve fruit, a stick, sugar (maybe) and booze, and that’s it. It’s probably in the same category as the mojito, the ti punch and things like that. I wondered what your thoughts were on that. The second part is that we’ve had some Brazilian experts in cachaca argue that one of the older drinks we have records of is something called the El Draque, which was originally made with aguardente, or an earlier word for cachaca, in Recife [in Brazil], they argued this is the oldest cocktail in their opinion.

Dave:
I think personally the caipirinha is one of my favorite drinks. I agree with Sasha, I would never disagree with Sasha! It’s a simple drink, best made simply, letting the spirit shine through. It is in the same class as the daiquiri, the ti punch, the mojito, these classic small varieties of punch. As for the El Draque, the the history on that is very loose. There is nothing from the time when it was supposedly inveting that describes the drink. So it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. There’s somebody a couple hundred years later describing this thing. So what it is is a variant of punch, which it would be very surprising if the Draque is their first. Punch doesn’t appear until the 1630s, and it causes a revolution. Everyone in the world starts copying it, and they copy it from englih people India not from people in the new word. It seems it doesn’t get into the new world until the 1640s, which is well after Francis Drake was kicking around. I’m very dubious about the history of that I have to say, I would like to be proved wrong but I would need proof.

Nate:
I always find there’s a bunch of super-interesting but fundamentally apocryphal stories in the spirits industry

Dave:
[Laughs]. That’s what I’m always fighting against.

Felipe:
When I was in NY I was very fortunate to meet Sasha, and one thing he said that was very interesting is that he was surprised to learn that a caipirinha is not shaken, but here in Brazil is actually stirred.

Dave:
That’s how I learned how to make it. One of my first gigs as a drinks writer. I was a drinks for a new magainze, this was in 2000, 2001, and I went on a photo shoot for a caipirinha article I was writing, and there was 17-year old Brazilian girl as the model, and she taught me that I was making the whole thing wrong. She taught me how to cut a lime properly, she taught me everything, she was like you’re doing it wrong. I’m always open to learning from an expert, [laughs] particularly a beautiful one like that. But you know I never shake it I don’t know why you do that. It’s like an old fashione,d you build it in the glass, you don’t need a cocktail shaker, you don’t need a strainer, you need a stick (or a spoon), sugar, and some limes. That’s what I like about it

Felipe:
[Laughs] WE have some things in common. I also like my caipirinhas stirred, and you are also a cachaca fan, and I also learned that you are a music fan- that you play the bass!

Dave:
Well not so much any more, I haven’t played in bands for about 10 years.

Felipe:
Well, I used to play the bass as well here in Sao Paulo and to share also our passion for music I sent you a CD last week. I hope it gets there soon.

Dave:
Thanks!

Felipe:
We call it Bebida Nacional. We did a cachaca musical map, we found the best and more important places to make cachaca and found what are their typical musical fashions: samba, milonga, forro, chorrinho.

Dave:
That’s great stuff! Well, I’m going to pour some Avua Amburana into a little glass and sti down and listen to it!

Nate:
Thanks to everybody for their time. Dave, it’s always a pleasure and always learn a lot from your insight, perspective and knowledge, and thanks Felipe for yours as well!

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