Tales of the Cocktail: You Go, Latin America
I'm here in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail, the huge annual spirits industry event for the movers and shakers of the cocktail world (no pun intended). I would like to report that this is an incredibly hard and demanding assignment, but because I am about to attend the poolside launch of a new Peruvian pisco, I don't think that's going to fly. As editor Bonnie said when I told her I was a little tired today, "You get no sympathy from me."
Still, before I head back to the tastings and sessions, I wanted to point out a few highlights. I've really been interested in the explosion of products from Latin America this year. I've tasted several nice new rums, including Diplomatico from Venezuela and a rhum agricole called Duquesne from Martinique. One new five-year-old rum from St. Lucia, called Chairman's Reserve, imported by the same Washington-based team that brought us Castries, was very tasty, and will be very affordable at $21.99 retail when it hits the U.S. market this fall.
But perhaps my favorite so far has been a reposado tequila called Excellia, from Eurowinegate (the same Cognac-based company that makes G'Vine gin). Excellia is aged in sauternes wine casks and Cognac barrels, and the result is an unbelievably smooth and flavorful sipping tequila. The product comes from a partnership between oenologist Jean Sebastien Robicquet and Carlos Camarena, master distiller of famed El Tesoro tequila. I will keep you posted when Excellia is available in the United States.
Finally, there has been a lot of talk about cachaça, specifically "legalizing cachaça" (most of it driven by a new marketing campaign by Leblon cachaca.) Apparently, the U.S. government does not officially recognize cachaça as its own variety of spirit, and the U.S. Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau instead insists the spirit should be labeled "Brazilian rum" when imported. (You can check out the whole argument at LegalizeCachaca.com.)
Anyway, I find the debate somewhat humorous. Certainly, cachaça is not rum and is made by a completely different process from other sugar-cane-based spirits. But honestly, when someone who doesn't know cachaça asks me what it is, I usually say something like, "It's sort of like a Brazilian rum." It's an easy shorthand.
At a session yesterday called "Sugarcane Spirits From Around The World," cachaça was taking a little bit of a beating from the audience. When Duggan McDonnell, who represents two cachaça brands, revealed that Brazil had more than 47,000 cachaça distilleries in operation, one man objected to the Brazilian government's lack of quality control and said: "I think they're promoting it horribly. I only see cachaça as a pool drink."
And then the issue of legalizing cachaça was raised. Said McDonnell, who also owns Cantina Bebidas in San Francisco: "Cachaça is a growing category, so I don't think calling it Brazilian rum is a bad thing. I sell a ton of cachaça, and when someone asks, 'What's cachaça?' I still have to say, 'Well, it's a rum from Brazil.' "
-- Jason Wilson
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