When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil I had been traveling for approximately 22 hours. Many of those hours I was rushing to catch a train, to catch a flight, and to catch another flight. I dropped my bags off at my hotel, the Marina All Suites in Leblon, and went straight to the Hotel Fasano’s Al Mare restaurant in Ipanema to begin my first lesson in Brazilian cachaça, which few realize is the third most consumed spirit in the world. I started off with a almost traditional caipirinha with a little bit of fresh passion fruit juice in it (with Leblon), Brazil’s signature cocktail that’s muddles cachaça with sugar and lime. Next, alongside a shot of straight Leblon – I had never sipped cachaça straight but wanted to see if I could taste the flavors of a premium brand (I could) – I ordered a batida with fresh caju, or cashew, fruit mixed with cachaca. Later that night at the Bar Do Lado, I found Leblon being mixed with a lager and topped with tangerine foam. This could be addicting I thought.
The name Leblon is based on the name of an upscale neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, just south of Ipanema and sharing its boardwalk. Since 2006, the Maison Leblon distillery in Minas Gerais has been working with Giles Merlet, a French cognac distiller to perfect their cachaça. Unlike Rum, which is usually made from molasses, cachaça can only be made from fresh cane juice, and can only be produced in Brazil. Different types of woods to age cachaça are being experimented with all over Brazil. For example Leblon uses XO Cognac casks from France, which help give it a smooth finish and fruity nose.
Originally I had every intention when planning the trip to Brazil of heading deep into Minas Gerais to Leblon’s distillery in the town of Patos de Minas, until realizing just how far out the town was. Next time I guess. Next time. Here are two cocktails to hold me off (recipes courtesy of Leblon):
Place peach and ginger in a food processor and pureé. In a shaker combine the peach and ginger pureé with Leblon, lime, simple syrup and sage. Add ice and shake well. Serve in a rocks glass. Garnish with a sage sprig.
Fill the shaker with ice, orange juice and Leblon Cachaça. Shake vigorously. Serve in a highball. Top with cranberry juice. Garnish with an orange wheel.
Add 1 bottle of Leblon cachaça and about 1 tbsp of Turbanado sugar to the ingredients in the jar. Let the jar with all the contents stand covered for 2 days, lightly shaking or turning the jar daily to help meld the flavors. Strain through a cheese cloth and serve on the rocks.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.