Why do we mature cachaça in wooden barrels? Because this changes the chemical composition of the cachaça, which enhances the taste and quality. The cachaça becomes softer and rounder, and take on the flavor of the wood. About 60% of the taste comes from the wood!
Fun fact: Pasteur (1822-1890) was the first to discover that wood could affect the taste of alcohol. In addition to milk, that old scientist also enjoyed a drink or two.
Why is cachaça so unique
Cachaça is matured in many different types of wood, as opposed to whiskey and cognac that are almost exclusively matured in oak. The use of native wood creates beautiful complex aromas. The Brazilians have even developed ‘blends’, by merging two or more different types of wood: first you mature in one and then in another. All in order to obtain the best and most characteristic tastes. Each type of wood has different characteristics. That is why every cachaça has its own soul. You can imagine that a very soft cachaça with light vanilla lends itself as a digestif accompanied with a (sweet) dessert, while a slightly spicier cachaça is a perfect aperitif.
How it works
By maturing cachaça, the color changes and it becomes softer and the taste gets affected. During the maturing, the alcohol extracts the wood elements and at the same time oxidation – air flow through holes in the barrel, the porosity of the wood – brings also other flavor processes in motion. How the flavor profile ultimately becomes depends on a number of elements. Of course the type of wood and how long it is aged, but also where the wood comes from, how the barrel was created and how large the barrel is. Finally, it is very important where the cachaça is stored under, any temperature and humidity.
Cachaça: classic vs. matured
Some woods are ideal as storage barrels for classic cachaça because they add little color and hardly cause interaction with the cachaça. So the cachaça doesn´t mature (further). The color determines whether you’re dealing with classic or mature cachaça. It could be that a cachaça is indeed matured for one year, has been in a barrel, but the color didn´t change – she is still considered a classic cachaça. Types of wood that do have an influence on the taste and color are thus used for aged cachaça.
Types of wood used to age cachaça
The most commonly used woods to mature cachaça are oak, peanuts, cherry, balsam, Jequitiba & Jequitiba Rosa and Araruva. But what kind of wood does exactly what? Here we go.
Oak ~ Carvalho
Oak is the only non-native timber species used for aging cachaça. It does not grow in Brazil, but in the Northern hemisphere. The most common types of oak are the European and North American. Nevertheless, oak barrels are widely used to age cachaça. Import of new barrels, but also the reuse of old wine, whiskey or cognac barrels. American oak gives the cachaça a golden color and a mild taste with a complex flavor profile, with characteristic aromas of vanilla and coconut. European oak brings an amber color, intense flavors with hints of almond, toasted bread and tannins.
Peanut ~ Amendoim
Perfect wood type for the storage of classical cachaça: the subtle odor hardly changes the flavor profile, the color and the flavors. It stabilizes the cachaça, increases the quality and flavors of sugar cane and white flowers remain intact. Peanut preserved [classical] cachaça´s are ideally suited for cocktails – such as caipirinha.