Photo by Danny Botelho/Flickr CC

As a sommelier I would sometime incur the wrath of guests whose flawless French pronunciation could allow no misstep. Should I under-enunciate the "pop" of Châteauneuf-du-Pape I would be facing the nostrils of an up-ticked nose. Yet never once did I hear a Frenchman pronounce Coca-Cola correctly when I was in France; more often it sounded like a choked engine with its syllabic stops, "Co-Ka-Coh-La." C'est la vie.

So I'm going to be the first to say: pronounce cachaça however you want. But if you do care to know, the correct pronunciation is "kah-SHAH-sah." More importantly get past the name and start drinking one of the world's greatest spirits, replete with history, passionate producers, and a nation that charges less for it then mineral water. And while sipping it is good, blending it into a cocktail is a natural.

What is cachaça? cachaça is a sugar cane-based spirit from Brazil. Truthfully, the vast majority of cachaça is industrial plonk. There are, however, craft producers and barrel-aged cachaças. For our purposes the new wave of cachaças such as Leblon, Boca Loca, and Cabana are the most useful for mixing drinks and are becoming more widely available.

To hang up your hat after creating a perfect caipirinha is near criminal when cachaça has much wider capabilities.

Cachaça is not necessarily rum, even though it's labeled as such in the United States. The primary difference between rum and cachaça is that the vast majority of rum is made from molasses. When rum is made from sugar cane such as Rhum Agricole in Martinique, there are still regional differences and distillation techniques that separate the two. Leblon's recent campaign to "Legalize Cachaça," underscores some of the potential issues for cachaça's actualization as a protected category.

The go-to drink for cachaça is the caipirinha, Brazil's national drink. Cachaça, muddled limes, sugar, and crushed ice couldn't be a simpler, tastier drink. Adding just about any fresh fruit to the mix compliments the caipirinha. Yet to hang up your hat after creating a perfect caipirinha is near criminal when cachaça has much wider capabilities.

Some of my favorite combos include smoky, intense, or savory ingredients mixed with cachaça. Tea mixes smartly with cachaça; herbal flavors are carried well by the vegetal hints of the fresh sugar cane. I've used smoked elements and found the broad shoulders of cachaça a willing mule.

With fall soon to come, colder weather looms and I'm leaning toward making a cachaça Manhattan-style with Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, and aromatic and peach bitters, or Quentão--a Brazilian mulled wine with fruit and spices. Neither one contains limes or sugar. So be creative.

Cachaça is drink-ready. Just roll right up to the store and ask for a bottle, or pull up a stool and ask your bartender to make a cachaça-based drink. How you say it is up to you; my apologies to Chaka Khan in advance.

Smoked Tea Punch

    • 1 oz. Cachaça
    • 1 oz. Aromatic White Wine
    • ½ oz. Fresh-Squeezed Lemon Juice
    • ½ oz. Simple Syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
    • ¼ oz. Cold-brewed Lapsang Souchong Tea

Invert white wine glass and smoke with applewood chips. Combine ingredients in mixing tin and shake with ice. Strain into smoked-treated glass. Garnish with lemon wheel.