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Sunday, August 28, 2011
Bar e Restaurante Ellas,Rio de Janeiro-Cachaça for Cachaçeiros
I'm not exactly up on my Brazilian liquor laws, but there appears to be little regulation of booze in Brazil. This is a good thing.
I've written about my favorite bar in the world before at the Praça da Republica street food fair in São Paulo. There I took a harsh shot of low cocktail-grade cachaça from a wooden cart that rasped my throat. I still smile when I recall that blissful moment, after tropical rains had withdrawn from downtown Sampa.
Cachaça is the third best selling spirit in the world and the traditional liquor of Brazil, yet remains somewhat of a mystery in the US. Oh yeah, 99.99% of that consumption happens in Brazil--only Germany(2nd largest market), the US, and Britain sell an amount worth mentioning.
In the US we carry a handful of artisanal cachaças--Germana is the most esteemed--the rest are mixers like 51, Ypioca and Velho Barreiro. The most succesful are the 3-distilled brands that are straight to the US market, or geared towards the US consumer:Cabana, Leblon, and Sagatiba.
In Los Angeles, bartenders use the 3-distilled brands and know nothing of traditional brands, all of which are double-distilled. Brazilian churrascarias(Brazilian AYCE steakhouse) are more likely to carry 51, and Ypioca for caipirinhas(Brazilian national drink); they also make them better than our popular bars. It's not clear that Brazil will be exporting small production cachaças anytime soon.
The best way to experience this curious beverage is to travel to Brazil. Cachaçeiros(cachaça aficionados, or drunks) are coming into fashion these days. Long regarded as a low class hootch, Cachaça has been receiving its just due. Bars like Rio's Academia da Cachaça have hundreds of bottles available for tasting and for sale. The Academia is a must while in Rio, but if you be a true cachaçeiro, deeper must you dip into the botecos(pubs), bares, and pes sujos(dirty feet bar, or dive).
Back in 2008 I came across Bar e Restaurante Ellas while waiting the guys at Amerioca Tours to check me in to my apartment. It's a quiet, little eatery and bar just a block and a half from Avenida Atlantica on the Copacabana Beach.
Ellas is a restaurant that provides a por kilo(buffet food by the kilo) service during the day, and is a bar a night. They serve porções(portions), which are bar bites likes sausages and cheeses; they carry typical sandwiches such as roast pork leg, and have prato feito(full meals). The food is unremarkable, but there's much more going on here if you scan the bar. I judge a bar on its booze, and due to Brazil's loose liquor laws,it's wise to take a peek at all these little bars and botecos you encounter. You'd be surprised at some of the ambitious selections from owners that aren't so beholden to distributors and labels. 51, Ypioca, and Velho Barreiro have are king, queen, and prince in respect to caiprinhas and batidas(cachaça with fruit shakes), but appear to have the freedom to line their shelves with small producers.
There are cocktails and Brazilian beers, a variety of spirits for mixing, but they also happen to have a master's collection of cachaças--mostly from Salinas, Minas Gerais. Salinas is to Minas Gerais as Pauillac is to Bordeaux. These are the best:Salinas, Beija Flor, Seleta, Boazinha, Lua Cheia,Canarinha, Teixeirinha, and the legendary Anisio Santiago(formerly called Havana).
Ellas is an inexpensive joint that's perfect for your own private cachaça tasting. I love the variety in aging, and types of wood barrels used--everything from oak, to balsa, to Amazonian woods. Cachaça has so many colors and flavors; it's my favorite spirit. Us cachaçeiros don't mind a little heat, we're in touch with our inner bebados(drunks).
The last time I was at Ellas--back in 2009--I decided to begin the day with a pair of cachaças. It was late morning and I sat down at the table not noticing a stack of license plates. A man asked of it was okay if he sat with me, of course, since I had hijacked his table. We mostly talked about his journey from various jobs before becoming a hawker of personalized license plates. He slurped away at some pasta while I slid into a shot of Boazinha.
Boazinha is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice(as are all cachaças), aged for two years in balsa wood, and has an alcohol content of 42%. It has a pleasing viscosity, strong flavors of balsa, and a balanced sweetness. This is as fine a cachaça as any you'll ever encounter.
I like to take extra time with cachaça, and my new friend was the perfect distraction. Let's just talk and sip, all other things can wait.
Round two is unforgettable. Anisio Santiago is one of the most expensive cachaças in Brazil.
Anisio Santiago started to produce his cachaça on his ranch, called Havana, in the 1940's. In 1946, he became the first producer to distinguish his product with a brand, back then named after the ranch--Havana. This bottle set the whole industry on the path to becoming a world class producer of quality drink from its sordid past as an indulgence of the wretched.
The man behind the bar said it would cost me about $17 USD for a shot and began to put it back on the shelf when I stopped him. Pour! "Are you kidding? That's like an fucking cocktail at a trendy bar in LA." I grabbed it before he changed his mind on the more-than-reasonable price.
The name changed to Anisio Santiago(name of founder) due to issues with the use of the word Havana for a non-Cuban product.
Anisio Santiago is aged for 8 years in balsa wood, and clocks in at 44.8% ABV. It has refinement and balance while remaining a true cachaça, worthy of a high end restaurant in the Beverly Hills of Sao Paulo--Jardins--yet seems right at home in this sleepy hole-in-the-wall. This was fortune; a first-class ride in an unlikely venue.
Cachaça is one of the last frontiers of the spirit world. It hasn't established its proper place in the hall of venerable inebriants, and is mostly consumed in mixed drinks. This makes the cachaçeiros all the more select in number and conviction. Whether it be pinga, aguardente, or simply cachaça; you can find sanctuary at Bar e Restaurante Ellas, where comrades in arms meet to sip the hours away.
Bar e Restaurante Ellas
R. Almirante Gonçalves 29 lj A - Copacabana
Rio de Janeiro, RJ | CEP: 22060-040
Open from breakfast 'til late