My Round: In it for the long haul

Cachaça is not about to knock vodka off the top spot. But the favourite spirit of Brazil's lorry-drivers is certainly here to stay
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A certain kind of person just loves saying that X is the new Y. What is new is good, or at least newsworthy, so we're all supposed to lie in wait, like duck hunters in a blind, hoping we'll be the one to spot the Next Big Thing. In the drinks world, this is a patently spurious notion: I can't even begin to list the dreadful Next Big Cocktails that have been passed my way. So I am all set to deal with the Cachaça proposition. When someone tells me, as they're sure to do, that Cachaça is the new Vodka, I will politely ignore them.

A certain kind of person just loves saying that X is the new Y. What is new is good, or at least newsworthy, so we're all supposed to lie in wait, like duck hunters in a blind, hoping we'll be the one to spot the Next Big Thing. In the drinks world, this is a patently spurious notion: I can't even begin to list the dreadful Next Big Cocktails that have been passed my way. So I am all set to deal with the Cachaça proposition. When someone tells me, as they're sure to do, that Cachaça is the new Vodka, I will politely ignore them.

In a sense, Cachaça is indeed the vodka of Brazil, its country of origin. Cachaça is a sugar-cane spirit, like rum, though distilled (a couple of billion litres a year) from cane juice rather than the molasses more often used for rum. It is usually bottled without ageing as "white" Cachaça, and in this form it is alarmingly inexpensive: as low as US$1 a bottle on its native turf. More expensive Cachaça, which can reach US$20 in Brazil, is aged in wood, either oak or barrels of native woods. When it's aged, it takes on wood character and can reach acceptable heights of spicy, aromatic complexity.

But ordinary Cachaça the new vodka? Not a chance. What it is, instead, is a Really Good Thing - but a Thing that has to be kept in perspective. And the perspective I have in mind is maintained by keeping one's eye on the fruit. I recently had the privilege of tasting several good Cachaças at Selfridges (tel: 08708 377 377), which is turning its stores into a little outpost of Brazil from Wednesday, and I came away with one clear message: this is a good drink shown at its biting best when accompanied by the fruits of the Brazilian forests.

Brazilians clearly love fruit, of which they have numerous and unfamiliar varieties. Many are sold as fruit purées for use in making drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. And some are deeply strange. One oddity: cashew, made not from the nut but from a flower-like appendage which yields an astringent, earthy juice. Another: petanga, which has tomato and citrus flavours and an oxidised character reminiscent of Madeira. And another: cupuacu, with nutty, faintly chocolate-y flavours and a tang that reminded me of the flor (yeast cap) that gives fino sherry its distinctive character. And my favourite, by a long shot: umbu, from a fruit resembling a plum but showing a remarkable complex of flavours including pineapple, banana, citrus and mango. I would drink this stuff every day.

Selfridges is going to be selling some of the vast range in frozen 100g pouches, £2.50 each, and it's worth making a trip to any of its stores to pick some up. Take them home, mix with sugar and ice and water, and blend the living daylights out of them. Or turn them into a batida, an alcoholic smoothie (greatly loved in Brazil): 100g of pulp, 20ml of sugar, a shot of Cachaça, and crushed ice. Blend. Smile. If you can't be bothered to do it yourself, the bartenders at the Momo outpost in the London Selfridges will do it for you. Cachaça comes into its own when blended with fruit.

If you really want to get into the Brazilian spirit, however, you should drink a Capeta. These deranged drinks are known in Brazil as the Lorry Driver's Drink. The name means devil, and Satan himself might have invented them: condensed milk (big in Brazil), Nescau (our Nesquick), guarana powder (available from health-food stores as well as Selfridges) and Cachaça. Guarana, native to the Amazon, is a natural stimulant. The rest is sugar, fat and alcohol. Does it keep you awake? Probably. At a cost? Certainly. Just promise me that you won't drive after drinking it. And that you'll never suggest that Cachaça is the new vodka.

Top Corks: Three mighty whites

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2002 £9.99, Safeway Austria's pride and joy, in a rare and welcome supermarket outing. Classic lentil flavours (really!), lip-smacking acidity.

Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard Chardonnay 2002 £12.99, Oddbins A single-vineyard bottling from New Zealand hot spot, Hawke's Bay. High alcohol content, but balanced by minerally fruit.

Tim Adams Clare Valley Semillon 2001 £8.03, Tesco Exotic fragrances emanate from this lovely cool-climate Semillon, followed by stone-fruit and tropical flavours enhanced with a touch of oak.

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