Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Beija, Boston's Newest Beverage

About two weeks ago, I learned in the Boston Herald newspaper about two local entrepeneurs, Kevin Beardsley and Steve Diforio, who created a high-end Brazilian Cachaça, Beija. Cachaça is often referred as a Brazilian rum. It is the national spirit of Brazil and the third most consumed spirit in the world. As I am a relative new convert to the joys of Cachaça, I was intrigued by the article.

I exchanged a few emails with Kevin Beardsley and he invited me out to taste some cocktails using the Beija. So last week, I stopped by the Vintage Lounge and met both Kevin and Steve. I spent some time chatting with them while tasting a number of different cocktails prepared and created by Alison and Bobby, two of the bartenders at the Vintage Lounge.

Beija Corp. is a Boston-based company, founded by two young entrepreneurs: Kevin Beardsley and Steve Diforio. They saw potential in Cachaça but felt that most Cachaça was too harsh for American palates. So they decided to create a new Cachaça, something much smoother that would appeal to Americans. They spent time in Brazil, carefully selecting growers and producers who could follow the guidelines they had devised.

Cachaça is made from sugarcane juice. Traditional rum though is usually produced from molasses, a derivative of the sugar production process. As sugarcane is used for both, Cachaça is sometimes referred to as Brazilian rum or sugarcane rum.

For Beija, the sugarcane is hand-harvested, pressed and small-batch distilled within ten hours of harvesting. Other brands allow their sugarcane to sit in the sun for days before being distilled. By waiting that long, some of the sugarcane deterioates and you lose some of the intensity of the fresher sugarcane. Beija also undergoes only a single distillation, which helps preserve the natural cane flavor. Other brands may double-distill their Cachaça because they need to do so to smooth it out, but at the expense of some of the flavor.

Kevin and Steve's restrictive standards actually led to Beija being classified by the U.S. government as a "Virgin Cane Rum." This is the first product that has ever received this official designation.

The name of their Cachaça and the design of its bottle certainly are evocative of something sensual, which is probably fitting considering it is a Brazilian spirit. The name "Beija" is a Portugese word and roughly translates in English as "to touch with the lips as a sign of love." The Beija logo is a combination of an alluring female figure in profile and the letter "B" for Beija.

Beija has just been released in the Boston market this month. Rather than try to cover the entire country, Kevin and Steve are first concentrating on the northeast, especially the Boston area. Beija is currently available in some of Boston's lounges and bars including Eastern Standard, Vintage Lounge, OM, Vox and the Foundation Lounge. It will soon be available in some select liquor stores in Boston in 750 ml bottles and will cost around $30. That is certainly an average price for a high-end spirit.

This is the official tasting profile of Bejia: "At room temperature, a distinct rock-candy aroma is complemented by a mineral note reminiscent of fresh-cut slate. When chilled, a tropical, herbal aroma emerges, producing a pure, fresh scent; a result of the single distillation. Smooth on the palate, the taste is clean and echoes the aromas with the herbal note leading the way; a squeeze of lime brings out more rock candy. The finish offers a minty, clean aftertaste."

I was very intrigued by the story of Beija. It sounded like it had potential, that it was an artisan spirit where its quality was a primary concern. And I was impressed by the passion of Kevin and Steve. They seemed to truly believe in their product. They did not make any type of hard sell. They seemed confident that their product could speak on its own. As I have often said, it is such passion that often can lead to a high quality product. It is such passion that I seek in others.

But, though that passion was evident, how was the Beija?

I began my tasting with a glass of Beija on the rocks. This is my preferred method of drinking high-end spirits. I like to savor the pure flavors of the spirit. I first smelled the Beija and noted some intriguing and pleasing herbal aromas. When I initially sipped it, I immediately thought of high-end tequilas. It did not taste like a tequila, but the way the flavors of the Beija struck me reminded me of how the flavors of a tequila strike my palate.

The Beija was very smooth and had no bite at all. There was no unpleasant aftertaste. That is exactly how high-end tequilas taste to me. The flavors of the Cachaça also formed a distinctive undercurrent. You would not confuse these flavors with any other type of spirit. To me, tequila has a similar flavor undercurrent in which you definitely know you are drinking tequila. Even if blindfolded, you would not have any trouble knowing you are tasting a high-end tequila because of that undercurrent. In the same way, if blindfolded, you would still know you were drinking Beija.

What struck me as the most prominent flavors of the Beija were exotic herbal notes. I could not specifically identify any particular herb. But the herbal flavors meshed well together to create an intriguing melange. A tantalizing mix where the blended herbs could not be separated into their individual components. Yet the whole of the mix was very pleasing. I very much enjoyed the flavor and smoothness of the Beija and felt that I could easily sit and drink this on the rocks.

I then moved onto some Beija and soda water. I generally dislike spirits and soda water as I do not care for the carbonation. But, this would certainly please someone who does not like drinking spirits straight. The flavors of the Beija were not covered up by the soda water so you would still be able to savor its unique taste. If I di drink a mixed drink, that is what I like, that the flavor of the spirit is still noticeable above the other ingredients.

Next, we tried a Caipirinha, Brazil's most popular cocktail. This cocktail contains muddled limes, sugar, ice, and Cachaça. I enjoy this cocktail, as long as they do not make it too sweet. I don't mind a sweet flavor, as that is part of this cocktail, but I also want to be able to taste the Cachaça. The lime also pairs well with the herbal notes of the Cachaça. Caipirinha is starting to become a more popular drink in the U.S. so you may see them offered on many drink menus.

We had a couple other cocktails with various fruit juices, fruits (such as raspberries) and Chambord liquer. The Cachaça paired well with the different fruit flavors presenting an intriguing combination of fruits and herbs. Like any such drinks, these can sometimes be too sweet which masks the flavor of the Cachaça. I would suggest that when ordering such drinks, you ask them to be light on the syrup and sweeteners. You want to be able to enjoy the flavor of the Cachaça.

One of the best cocktails I tried with the Beija had some basil in it. The basil just seemed such a natural combination for the herbal flavors of the Beija. I don't recall any other drink that I have had with basil that seemed to mesh so well. I could picture sipping this cocktail with some Italian food, a nice chicken parmigiana. This cocktail definitely impressed me. You can find additional cocktail recipes on the Beija website.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Bejia. It was certainly excellent straight and it was a very good ingredient in numerous cocktails. The herbal flavors made for an interesting pairing with the other ingredients. Though I enjoyed the Bejia, how would others rate it?

A couple days later, I took a bottle of Beija with me to my regular poker game. Nine of my friends tried the Beija, either straight up or with a little bit of lime juice. By the end of the night, the bottle was nearly empty. It was a big hit and everyone very much liked it. They commented on its smoothness and unique flavor. Though none of them had ever tried Cachaça before, they all enjoy high-end spirits, including rum. They would definitely drink Beija again. And I enjoyed the Bejia that night as much as I had previously.

So the passion of Kevin and Steve has led to an excellent product. I heartily recommend the Beija and it will certainly be a staple in my house. If you have never had Cachaça before, then give the Bejia a try. If you have had Cachaça before but did not like it because it was too harsh, give the Bejia a try. If you have had Cachaça before and enjoyed it, then the Bejia will truly please you.

If you try Beija, please tell me about your own experiences.

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