Cachaca 51 – a shot to the brain

My wife has been in her element these past few days. The book launch is imminent and while I am feeling quietly nervous about my first time centre stage, my wife has found the perfect opportunity to be on the phone organising stuff. And there’s nothing she likes better than being on the phone … apart from organising stuff, of course. Anyway, everybody is now invited, so hopefully there’ll be a few people there, rather than just us rattling about in Gallery North, and I’m gonna try to start off by dulling everyone’s senses with a shot of Brazil before they get to listen to me. I’ve been trying to find some Pirassununga cachaca 51, but the only place to get it seems to be online – with a hefty delivery charge. Strange, really, considering its huge popularity across the water, yet cachaca is an almost uniquely Brazilian drink. Pinga,(it’s more common name) is made from fermented sugar cane juice and isn’t quite like anything you’ve ever tasted. And the Brazilians can’t get enough of it. I read somewhere that the equivalent of 11 litres per person is consumed each year in Brazil. And that’s per person – man, woman and child – so someone’s drinking a lot of the stuff. In fact, as I recall, most of the fights out there, pistols drawn, fists balled, were over money or women, but there was always a bottle of pinga at the centre of it. Some drank it neat, straight from the bottle, but the more sophisticated drinkers mixed it with lime juice and lots of brown sugar, and called it a caipirinha.

And it’s like taking a shot to the brain.

The effect doesn’t creep up on you, it hits you. Hard.

I remember being on the beach one afternoon, the Araguaia river at its lowest in the dry season, talking to a man who was contented with his life. ‘There’s nothing better,’ he said, ‘than a good drink; some good music; and a good book.’ It was probably the most profound thing any of the workers from the plantation had ever said to me. Usuallly they talked about sex or fishing. Or drinking. So Zeke smiled a  toothless smile and took a top-loading cassette player from his bag. He pressed play and the sound of samba came from the mono speaker, the batteries fading, the music warbling and stretching. Then he took out a superman comic book and opened it to the right page before taking a swig of his caipirinha. He smiled at me again, then keeled to one side and passed out. Profound indeed. Unforgettable. And he was late for work the next morning.

So there it is. Pinga. The best selling liqour in the western hemisphere isn’t Jack Daniels, or Bacardi, no, no. Apparently it’s Pirassununga cachaca 51. The brand of pinga I remember from Brazil. Sagatiba seems to be the most freely available here, but it doesn’t have quite the same raw burn that I remember from 51.

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