Soccer's big moment starts this week as the best players on the planet meet in Brazil for the World Cup. And if you happen to be among the millions following along at home, why not toast your favorite team with a dash of South American spirit?
Once fairly obscure, Brazilian cachaca and pisco, made in Chile and Peru, are on the rise in the United States, says Pamela Wiznitzer, bartender at the Dead Rabbit in New York City and president of the U.S. Bartenders' Guild. With the weather warming up and the World Cup beckoning, now's the time the spirits really shine, she says.
Also a fan is New York City-based mixologist Duane Fernandez Jr.
"I just want the rest of America to break out of the usual and try something different. They will be surprised by what they will taste," he says.
Ready to try something new? Here's a sampler of what's out there.
Cachaca: Pronounced ka-SHA-sa, this is Brazil's national spirit and by law can only come from that country. It is made from fresh sugar cane juice and most often is seen in the caipirinha (kai-pur-EEN-ya) cocktail, made from cachaca and muddled lime. But bartenders increasingly also are exploring alternatives, such as subbing cachaca in classic cocktails like the old fashioned.
The spirit had been labeled "Brazilian Rum" in the United States, but producers successfully lobbied to have regulators recognize it as a unique spirit, arguing that customers got confused.
"Cachaca has a much different taste than a typical molasses-based rum," says Steve Luttmann, president and founder of Leblon cachaca, the category leader in the United States. "Consumers would taste cachaca and say, 'That's not rum,' and they would be right."
There are about 20 brands of cachaca available in the U.S., including Avua Cachaca which not only comes from Brazil, but is part-owned by Justin Noel, who has played soccer professionally for clubs in France and Britain. Now owner and bartender at New York City's 1534 bar, Noel sees the World Cup as an opportunity to "celebrate two things that I love the sport and Brazil's national spirit."
"Many people in the U.S. don't understand the beauty of cachaça, but the distilled fresh sugar cane juice offers an earthy-sweet flavor that makes great drinks," says Noel. "How better to enjoy a World Cup viewing party than with cocktails made with the host country's national spirit!"
Pisco: Pisco (PEAS-ko) is a white grape brandy produced in both Peru and Chile, and both countries lay vigorous claim to its origins. But the piscos are produced differently. For instance, Peruvian pisco can't be aged in wood like Chilean pisco, and the two countries use different grapes as a base.
Peruvian brands commonly found in the United States include Pisco Porton, BarSol and Macchu Pisco. Chilean brands include Control C and Kappa.
Fans include Moses Laboy of Le Colonial in New York City. "I've been in a love affair with pisco for a very long time," he says. "The pisco sour has always been one of my favorite classic cocktails. I really enjoy that it packs so much flavor with such a simple recipe, and for a long time have even judged 'mixologist' skills on this cocktail."
Cacao: This one is so new it's not officially a category. But a recently launched spirit, Solbeso, is being billed as the first premium white spirit distilled from cacao fruit, the citrusy, sweet pulp surrounding cacao beans, better known as cocoa. The fruit is sourced from Peru and Ecuador and there are plans to expand to other countries, including the Dominican Republic and Brazil.
Among those serving Solbeso is Enzo Cangemi, bar manager at Ovest Pizzoteca in New York. "It's an exciting addition to my cocktail program, as I utilize a lot of spices and herbs in my cocktails," he says. "Solbeso has a delicate cacao aftertaste that gives these cocktails a fuller, richer flavor profile."