Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Cachaça and Pisco: Two New Dance Crazes from South America?

No, these are not variations on the cha cha or requiring disco balls and bad hair.

These are two of the most famous Latin American spirits, long living in the shadow of tequila and rum but now emerging in their own right in the United States and best appreciated in their signature drinks.



Cachaça (pronounced cah-SHAH-zah) is the classic spirit of Brazil.  Made from fermented cane sugar, it is similar to rum (made from molasses) but has a more assertive flavor.

The  Muddler - Also a handy tool for old fashioneds and mojitos

The Muddler – Also a handy tool for old fashioneds and mojitos

My initial encounter with it was at the Discophage, a long deceased Brazilian restaurant in Paris (which readers may recall from reading about the bean dish, feijoada, on May 15, 2012) where caipirinhas (ki-pah-REE-nyas) were made one by one: muddling fresh limes with sugar then adding cachaça and stirring with ice. Because the lime rinds are in the drink, and get crushed, you pick up a delicious accent when the lime oil is released.

Sadly, while real caipirinhas are available in good Brazilian restaurants, most of them push the use of vodka instead of the real deal, for a “milder” drink. This is a shame, as they are usually the same proof (alcoholic strength) and cachaça gives a much more interesting flavor to the cocktail.

Another less well-known use of cachaça is in drinks known as batidas (bah-TCHEE-das), infinitely variable blends incorporating fruit juices, and usually coconut milk or condensed milk. These are delicious, refreshing and laden with calories.

Moving to the West coast of South America, we come to pisco (PEE-skoh), a grappa-like unaged grape brandy, claimed by both Chile and Peru as its own.

Pisco Sours at Pio Pio

Pisco Sours at Pio Pio

The most popular way to enjoy pisco, in both countries, is the pisco sour – a mélange of pisco, sugar, lemon juice and egg white (for the froth) shaken vigorously or blended with ice and garnished with bitters.

My initial encounter with an alleged pisco sour was at the Santiago Hyatt on the eve of a flight to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world where our group would board a ship for Antarctica. Alas, made in bulk for a large reception, it was just OK, a pleasant enough beverage but nothing special.

The next time was in Mallorca, Spain, made by a native of Peru with pisco from Peru. And it was delicious. But, the mixologist was not happy; it wasn’t good or authentic enough, in part because there was no blender in the villa. “You have to try this in New York at a good Peruvian place.”

And the pisco sours at Pio Pio (at least in the Hell’s Kitchen branch) are heavenly.

I can’t wait to try one in Lima!

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4 thoughts on “Cachaça and Pisco: Two New Dance Crazes from South America?

  1. janett edelberg on said:

    Hi —

    Loved this post. When I was @ Seagram and doing work on new products, we looked into cachaca twice.

    Brought back some fond memories of focus groups with Steve Turner. Did you ever work with him??

    Hope that this finds all well with you.

    janett e

  2. Adorei !! Thats so nice you wrote this article about “Cachaca”.
    The other day, I cooked a Brazilian chichen Soup called : Canjiquinha and served with Caipirinhas to my friends. They loved it!
    Saude!( Cheers)
    Happy New Year !!!

  3. Deb (Brown) St. John on said:

    Hey Mary Ellen..
    Had a pisco sour in Cusco Peru and really liked it. I love to try new drinks. Heck..I like to try new things otherwise probably wouldn’t have tried tarantula or cricket in Asia. Neither as good as a pisco sour! 😉

  4. Sol Matsil on said:

    Dearest MaryEllen,

    Reading about crones, latkes , cachaca and Pisco..u blow my mind.

    Where and how did u become so wonderfully informed on all these special foods from all over the world? U are to young to have experienced it all and yet there is nothing u do not know about the origin of everything.

    It really is a labor of love for u and I get such a charge out of how u romance everything and know everything.

    Stay well and keep all this wonderful knowledge coming.

    luv ya luv ya

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