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 LEBLON CACHAÇA: Featuring founder Steve Luttmann
It's surprised me how launching a spirits brand from a particular country
is almost like launching the country. I always say that I’m more
June 2015 Issue / Vol. 3, No. 11                                                     of a social studies teacher than I am a spirits producer.

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June 2015
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Leblon Cachaça, featuring founder Steve Luttmann
How could Brazil’s national spirit, the world’s third most consumed spirit behind only vodka and soju (a Korean fermented beverage), remain so esoteric? And what about those miasmic tendencies? Can’t something be done to elevate it? These are the kind of questions that arise when lounging on Rio de Janeiro’s Leblon Beach with the beautiful Two Brother Mountains in the background while sipping the country’s national drink, an ice-cold caipirinha, made with above-described national spirit, cachaça. Steve Luttmann, founder of Leblon Cachaça, decided to find out. Luttmann lived in Brazil in the late 1990’s and said he immediately became enraptured with the lifestyle. He visited every couple months and married a Brazilian beauty. He described the Brazilian way of life as “all about genuineness and spontaneity.” “It reminds of California with Latin authenticity,” Luttmann said. “It’s laid back, but real—from the people and how they act, to the food and the drink.” The drink, cachaça, has developed a personality of its own, lately. Only one percent of the Brazilian brew leaves the homeland. Of the 59 countries that receive the export, Germany, the US, and Portugal receive just over one-third. So it made sense to Luttmann to find a way to produce a more excellent product. “I always say that when we drink wine and spirits,” Luttmann said, “it’s a form of cultural transportation. With Chianti, we visit the hills of Tuscany. With tequila, it’s Mexico. And with cachaça, it’s a wonderful trip to Brazil.” The founders ended up purchasing the distillery and renamed it Maison Leblon. Master distiller Gilles Merlet, a cognac maker in France, came on board to distill the perfect artisanal alambique. As it turned out, cachaça shared many of the same processes as cognac. All Merlet had to do was master the process and add his expertise. In an industry where tradition trumped science, this turned out to be the missing step in producing consistently good cachaça. “Cachaça in Brazil is viewed as a very pedestrian spirit,” Luttmann said. “But having our French approach with a real French master distiller has really helped educate Brazilians that cachaça can be as complex a spirit as any scotch whiskey, cognac, or gin.” This French approach has generated a ton of interest in Brazil. Merlet has become well known with Brazil’s bartender community through various workshops and presentations. This has started an artisanal cachaça renaissance, Luttmann said, much like craft beer and bourbon in the U.S.