By Alastair Kinghorn
October 6, 2014

Known more correctly as cachaca or aguardente de cana-de-acucar, this is Brazil`s national tipple, and many an ardent fan has been toppled by this potent brew.

Distilled from sugar cane juice, traditionally in a small pot still whereas it is known as artesanal”, and sometimes sweetened, or aged in barrels, or steeped in a variety of fruits, it is much more than the main ingredient in Brazil’s national cocktail; caipirinha.

To begin with I could not own up to the fact that I disliked the taste of pinga. It was just too much for my Brazilian drinking companions to take on board, as they obviously simply adored the stuff judging by the vast quantities that they were capable of consuming at all hours of the day. Not that all of them were alcoholics you know, but shall we say, aficionados.

Accustomed as I was to opening hours kept by public houses in Great Britain, I found it pass to say the least, that pinga is consumed by many a Brazilian workman at breakfast time on cold winter mornings. It remains my opinion to this day that alcohol should not be consumed until the sun has passed the yard arm. The afternoon should be reserved for drinking tea, and not until 5:30pm should a glass of sherry be offered.

It is said that Campari, the Italian bitter tasting vermouth, has to be tried three times before you develop an appreciation of it. I found that it took much longer than that to appreciate pinga, unless its strong fiery taste of raw sugar was heavily disguised with lime juice, refined sugar and diluted with plenty of ice.

It is in that fashion it is easy to develop a liking for pinga when it is contained within a caipirinha, and although I prefer my own mix, which uses Sagitaba cachaca, sugar syrup instead of granulated, and lime juice, instead of mashed whole fruit, there are many varieties that I have tasted that are just as delicious, including the use of caju (cashew) fruit instead of lime.

Undaunted by my earlier distaste, I continued to experiment with pinga, purely in the interest of scientific and literary research you understand. I moved on from 51 (the most popular brand), to São Fransisco, and Ypioca. Both of these produce cachaca aged in barrels and it was this “sipping” cachaca that I became fonder of, although I have to admit that it was rather more the effect that attracted me, rather than the taste, which was only slightly more palatable than the cheaper brands.

Curiosity and encouragement to experiment further, from friends and acquaintances, led me into what I would describe as a Pingeria or Cachaca emporium during a visit to Paraty. The place was literally wall to wall and floor to ceiling in the stuff! My enquiries brought further questions to be answered, “How much did I want to spend?… “Did I want a recent bottling or something more than ten years old?”.

I was astonished! Here were bottles of pinga that had price tags equivalent to those on rare bottlings of Scotch Single Malts! But would the taste be in the same league?

I wrestled with temptation to exceed the limit on my credit card and opted for a variety of miniatures, explaining my intent to the sales assistant and requesting his expertise in making a representative selection. After much haggling the price came down to R$100 for ten very small bottles. I could have stocked myself up with 51 for nearly a year!

Several days later in my kitchen at home I sat down with my son and daughter to a little experimentation.

Shot glasses were labelled, a list of subjects tallied, and we turned our backs as my son poured.

Our rules were simple;- each tasting was to be described and then given points out of ten. Once my daughter and I had sampled the first five, my son took his turn. Then we repeated the process with the final batch. Bottled water was on hand for rinsing of glasses and throats.

The subjects tasted, in order, were as follows:-

No.1 Minha Deusa, Prata, Betin MG, 40%
No.2 Claudionor, Prata, Januaria MG, 48%
No.3 Pedra Branca, Ouro, Paraty RJ, 42%
No.4 Matodentro, Ouro, Paraitinga SP, 42%
No.5 Engenho D`Ouro, Prata, Paraty RJ, 45%
No.6 Rochina, Prata, Mansa RJ, 46%
No.7 Seleta, Prata, Salinhas MG, 42%
No.8 Reserva Do Gerente, Prata, Guarapari ES, 42%
No.9 Vale Verde, Ouro, Betin MG, 40%
No.10 Boazinha, Ouro, Salinas MG, 42%

I heartily recommend spending an evening such as we had that night! It was hilarious to say the least, and although we cannot claim to be experts in the finer points of pinga, our conclusions were surprisingly similar, even if our descriptions were sometimes less than scientific!

The results were as follows:

1st – 28 points – Pedra Branca – “soft and creamy with tobacco notes”
2nd – 26 points – Vale Verde – “suave with tobacco and vanilla notes”
3rd – 22 points – Matodentro – “smooth with fruit and banana notes”
4th- 20 points – Seleta – “smooth with vanilla and olive notes”
5th – 19 points – Engenho D`Ouro – “smooth with salty notes”
6th – 18 points – Reserva Do Gerente – “dry with smoky notes”
7th – 17 points – Claudionor – “smooth with honey notes”
8th – 14 points – Boazinha – “smoky”
9th – 13 points – Minha Deusa – “smoky”
The wooden spoon with only 4 points – Rochina – “!”

I have been kind enough to omit some of the more critical remarks such as: “metallic, paraffin, cream soda, nail varnish, plasticy, harsh and raw dung”!

What, might you ask, is my opinion now of the national drink of Brazil?

Well, I certainly have a much better appreciation of the range of quality on offer, and some of it is very good indeed. However, although I would rather drink pinga on a cold rainy day than Coca Cola, in preference I would rather stick to Scotch, especially since I can safely say that I like its flavour, and I can pick up a litre of Bells for under R$40, compared to over R$200 for some of those in the list above!

We did however, sleep very well that night!

2014 Alastair Kinghorn

Alastair is an expat originally from Scotland now living in rural Southeastern Brazil close to the city of São Paulo. He has led a variety of lives since leaving school at the tender age of seventeen. In the merchant navy he spent six years travelling the world including a trip to Rio and Santos in 1971. He then tried his hand doing a series of jobs in London as;- Mini Cab driver, Fashion allocator, Warehouse manager, Meat factory worker, before deciding to become an architect. He then went north to the Scottish Highlands for the next six years. Worked there as an architect, and as skipper of a pollution control vessel on the Moray Firth. He opened a shop selling stationary and art supplies. Started an arts group with an annual exhibition, became a member of the Community Council and ran as candidate in local elections, before returning south to London in ’86; due to recession in the Highlands. Worked in commercial architects practices in London during the ‘Yuppie’ years, before yet another recession hit the construction industry. Entered Local Government as an Estate Surveyor for Westminster City Council, then as Technical Manager for Camden and finally Repair Centre Manager for Greenwich. Took early retirement in 2006 and emigrated here to Brazil. Settled in Peruibe SP for three years before moving to Pedro de Toledo in the foothills of the Jureia mountains. Married and divorced three times he spends his time between his sitio, working part-time in a local imobiliaria, writing, photography and listening to classical music. Alastair decided to create Brazil: Alco and Bebidas
Brazil: Copo de Vagabundos
Brazil: Modestia
A Fora de Prazo
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