You’ll remember the day a brand wanders into the saturated spirits world and breathes fresh air into a category dominated by industrial brands, because it doesn’t happen often.
Avuá Cachaça has won the hearts of bartenders and has turned people on to cane spirits since they launched. The cane based categories still have a long way to go before the masses are celebrating them. Products like these will keep the good fight moving forward in showing how delicious and terroir driven these products can be. We caught up with co-founder of Avuá, Peter Nevenglosky to chat about Cachaça and the challenges of starting a brand.
Can I call you big Daddy cane?
“Yes, I love it!”
What made you want to get into the spirits industry?
“Good question. I had worked in marketing on products but not spirits – Dannon yogurt and Red Bull specifically – but I had a love and interest in the spirits category for the history, variety, and unique applications in cocktails. Not to mention a ton of friends who bartended at some fantastic spots that fueled that interest.”
What drew you to Cachaça specifically?
“It was a combination of some amazing travel down in Brasil where I had the pleasure of tasting some phenomenal aged stuff and a little botecoin Williamsburg where I had my first caipirinha. I was blown away by the history of the category and variety of the product available down in Brasil and the little that has made it to the US.
Can you speak about Cachaça as a category and what makes it different from cane-based rums?
It is a cane distillate but differs from most of what consumers know as rum as it is distilled from pressing freshly cut cane rather than molasses (byproduct of sugar production). Thus it is a product that is dryer than most rums and retains much more of the terroir impact
It’s an appellation of Brasil – the national spirit and 3rd most consumed spirit in the world
Cachaça is closest to rhum agricole in profile however there are a few key distinctions: a) its location of production and cane, terroir and yeast differences b) Type of Stills: artisanal cachaça is produced in pot stills and comes off at lower proof vs agricole in column stills and tends to be higher proof.
Cachaça legal definitions: Made in Brazil from sugar cane juice, 48-58% ABV, with no more than 5g/Liter of sugar allowed post distillation (“We add none” – Pete) which is a stark contrast to molasses based rum. Culturally, it was the first distilled spirit in the “new world” from Dutch settlers who began to work in 1526 in Brasil distilling cane brought over by the Portuguese. It caught on rapidly due to quality issues with the Bagaçeira the Portuguese were selling. The Portuguese banned it twice – Cachaça provoked the first colonial revolt recorded in the “new world”, after Portugal inflicted a heavy tax on its consumption in the 1660’s.
Do you think cane spirits (especially cachaça) are misunderstood?
“Yes! I think that neither molasses or cane rum producers (including cachaça) have done a good job of overall education on characteristics of the unique types and history, holistically. We believe strongly that understanding commonalities and differences elevates the whole. I see agave producers as best practice in this light – and we’ve made it our mission to help consumers understand the history and differences between cachaça, english-style rum, french-style rhum and spanish-rum
If there was a poster child for cachaça in the form of a cocktail, what would that cocktail be?
“The most obvious answer is the caipirinha – but as you know our mission is to take the category beyond this into uncharted territories and challenge perception that it is one-dimensional (something fueled by the industrial, lower quality cachaça that made it to the shores in the US first). Fuck that is a hard question.
Cervantes Ramirez created a cocktail at a preview for the new Milk & Honey space, we called it the Pan Am. It is Avuá Amburana, dry vermouth, dry curaçao and an orange twist, rocks glass big rock.”
Does the cocktail community directly affect your brand?
“Of course – we are very trade focused brand – building a brand in a niche category means that education is the most important aspect of what we do. And the bartender is the one who interacts with consumers in a very deep, relevant way that we never could. Having our product on menus, staff excited about it and interested to educate the consumer is our focus.”
How did you interact with the community of bartenders in markets you chose to launch in?
“This depends on how that bar community is organized – often it involves organizing educational trade events, staff trainings and myself & Nate my business partner with backpacks of booze doing our traveling salesman thing. Also it sometimes involves shots and story telling at very late hours of the night.”
Avua Amburana is one of our favorite new spirits. Can you speak about amburana wood (Amburana cearensis) for anyone unfamiliar and give us some history on how cachaça started getting aged in this type of wood?
“First off, thank you for those words – I love it so much and have been so stoked at the response to the spirit! Technical detail: Amburana (Amburana cearensis)
Also known as cerejeira and many other names in Portuguese, it can be found in the Northeast, Center-West and Southeast regions of Brazil. The tree has an average height of 10-20 m (32-65 ft.) and a trunk measuring 40-80 cm (16-31 in.) in diameter. It imparts an intense color, a distinct characteristic aroma bouquet with notes of vanilla, and a slightly sweet flavor. The cachaça aged in amburana is widely known and available in Brazil, being often used in “blends” of cachaça aged in European oak barrels, as it intensifies the aromas and flavors of the bouquet. What is possibly the most unusual thing about the category is the unique wood aging – much like most other aged categories, oak barrels were used to transport white cachaça from the coastal areas of Paraty in Rio to the interior rich mining areas of Minas Gerais – early trade highlighted that if left in barrels, it affected flavor in a positive way. This then spurred on experimentation in native woods – 28 in total can be found throughout Brasil – one of them being Amburana. We’ve used Amburana for many decades on our farm in Carmoby the family producers using trees from the farm to build the barrels.”
Last year you added you third label to your brand, oak aged Cachaça. Can we expect any more products in the future?
“It is a possibility that we may have something new for the kids second half of 2016 but if I told you more I would have to kill you.”
Fair enough big daddy cane.
I heard about this event you started called Tiki by the sea. Can you share what that event is about?
“Indeed! Tiki is in our blood – having a product made for it, with a brand that evokes that era of 1950’s and 60’s in Rio, at the time tiki was exploding here. And it’s just damn fun. The event idea originated from hanging around my parent’s hotel in Wildwood, NJ – a gem of a town that blew up in the 50’s and 60’s and essentially froze in time. It includes some of the best tiki motels and architecture of that era still surviving. After rapping with some bar friends we decided it would be the perfect location for a 3 day tiki event focused on educating bartenders and industry folk on the history of, technical aspects and making tiki drinks.”
You wear many hats for your brand, I see an entrepreneur, brand owner, spirit expert, brand ambassador. Do you have any advice for people looking to start their own brand?
“That’s a very kind description. Starting a brand is a mountain of work – so passion and energy are huge. Before anything else you need to prepare to live and breathe the brand every hour of every day. One major thing I see people missing is the upfront work to dial in a product in its entirety: product, package, brand identity, market demand confirmed, consumer target etc. There is never too much time spent to work these sides of it before you bring something to market.”