Haute Interview: Steve Luttmann, founder of Leblon Cachaça

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Steve Luttmann has a very impressive resume.  Before creating Leblon with his father in-law, he was Senior Vice President of Marketing at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in New York from 2002 to 2005. Before that he spent 10 years stint at Unilever, where he handled product introductions in South America and worked in different divisions of the multinational firm in the U.S., Brazil, and Austria.  He graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a B.S. in Finance and Economics with Honors in 1987 and then earned an M.B.A. from the NYU Stern School of Business in New York in 1992, specializing in Marketing and International Business.

We heard you’re married to a Brazilian…what came first the marriage or the passion for cachaca?
I met my wife first in Sao Paulo, and had my first Caipirinha ever with her at a Churrascaria called Baracoa in SP.  However, it was with a very nasty Cachaça – one that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  So no question getting married came before my passion for Cachaça.

We recently heard you started a new ad campaign about “Be Brasilian” can you expand more on that?“Be Brasilian” is our invitation to Americans to adopt certain “Jeitinhos Brasileiros” (Brazilian Ways) into their daily lives.  We tend to be a bit uptight in the Northern Hemisphere, and adding a little bit of Brazilian to our daily repertoire will definitely add some Carioca flavor to our lives.  To this end, I recently wrote a book, “How To Be A Brazilian,” to inspire Americans on “the what and the how” to be a Brazilian.  The book covers everything from “how to do the beach” and “namorar” (dating), to having your own Brazilian afternoon barbecue with food, drink, music, and samba. This is the foundation of our new marketing campaign, “Be Brasilian, Be Leblon,” which invites Americans to partake in this wonderful lifestyle via our product and some delicious Leblon Caipirinhas…

Why is the Miami market so important to you?
Miami is the Latin gateway market for the United States as well as the world.  It is the market where Leblon has really caught fire, and given the significant levels of visitation from tourists from the US and world, it’s become the place where many people are discovering and falling in love with Leblon Cachaça, and then adopting it in their home markets.

We heard Cachaca is the #3 spirit in the world…why don’t we know much about it in the US/Miami?Ninety-seven percent of Cachaça is consumed in Brazil, and it is now just starting to be exported and enjoyed internationally.  The main reason for the sudden growth is the significant increase in product quality from alambique Cachaças such as Leblon.  Up until now, many considered Cachaça as a poor quality crude spirit, with a well-earned reputation of giving you a massive headache. This is because Industrial Cachaças are indeed very crude distillates – kind of like Tequila was twenty or thirty years ago – produced at the huge Ethanol distilleries.  However, the alambique Cachaças are more akin to a 100% agave Tequila or single malt Scotch Whiskies.  They are single batch distilled in alambique copper pot stills, just like Cognac and Scotch, and therefore have a much smoother taste with sensorial complexity and purity.  No headaches, great tastes.  This has made all the difference in Cachaças growth in Miami and the United States.

If we wanted to throw a Rio party at home, what do we need?
Pick a Saturday afternoon and invite all your friends to come over for a Brazilian churrasco (barbecue).  Fire up the grill, and get all type of meats, including Picanha, a delicious cut unique to Brazil (ask your butcher).  Bake some Pāo de Queijo, and prepare some Brazilian side dishes in advance: farofa, Brazilian rice, and vinaigrette.  When your guests arrive, put on a long Brazilian playlist, starting with some chill Bebel Gilberto and Bossacucanova and ending with some up-tempo Criolo and Marcelo D2.  Put out fresh-cut fruit with Cachaça for a DIY Caipirinha Bar, and start grilling the meat, one at a time.  As the meats come out, slice them and serve family style.  There’s no formal ‘sitting down for meal time’ at a Brazilian churrasco – this is a nice, long informal afternoon that starts with casual conversation with a few hours of food grazing and caipirinhas, ending with some wild samba dancing in the backyard.

What’s the difference btw cachaca and rum?
Technically, Cachaça can only be made in Brazil from fresh cane juice, which is fermented and single distilled between 38% and 54% alcohol by volume.  This is the legal definition of Cachaça in Brazil, which is now legally recognized by the United States.  Rum, on the other hand, can be made anywhere, and is usually made from molasses, a cooked by-product of sugar production, and distilled at much higher degrees of alcohol by volume.  As a result, Cachaça tends to have a much fruitier, livelier nose, whereas Rum has a spicier, burned flavor.  From a sensory perspective, they are very different – especially an alambique Cachaça, which is made similar to an Eau-de-Vie in Cognac or Scotch Whiskey.
From a historical perspective, Cachaça was actually the first spirit of the Americas, as it was first created in Brazil in the 1530’s, more than one hundred years prior to the first distillation of rum in the Caribbean in the mid 1600’s.  Sir Francis the Drake was known to drink Cachaça in a drink called the ‘El Draque,’ which was Cachaça with lime juice and mint – the precursor to the Mojito as rum was not yet in existence!

What is your favorite watch brand?
My favorite watch is my Tag Heuer, followed by some obscure vintage German watch that was once my Grandfathers.  I would also have to include my iPhone as well, as I tend to use that more than my watch these days.

What are your favorite hangouts in Miami?
For cocktails, I love going to the Regent Cocktail Club.   The cocktail list, curated by John Lermayer and Josh Wagner, is genius.  I’m also a big fan of the cocktails at the Broken Shaker.  For later afternoon drinks and snacks, I enjoy going to the Hyde, where they serve Leblon in a Nitrogen Caipirinha.  For food, the sushi at Mikasa is outstanding, and I always love eating at the bar at Prime 112.  For workouts, I always run on the beach, followed by weights at Equinox.

What is your favorite cocktail bar in the world?
Bar d’Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.  The bartender, Santiago, makes a cocktail called the Chopp Tangerina, which translates literally to “Tangerine Draft Beer.”  It’s made with fresh tangerine juice, honey, and Leblon Cachaça, strained chilled into a pint glass, and then topped with a unique coconut foam that make the drink look like a fresh draft of beer.  It’s amazing looking and tasting.  And I love hanging out at the bar with Santiago, who’s a great guy.

Tell me more about Cedilla your Acai Liquor?
At our distillery in Minas Gerais, Brazil, we experimented by macerating various exotic Brazilian fruits in our unaged, unfiltered Leblon Cachaça.  That’s how we came up with Cedilla, a liqueur with Amazonian acai berry, ginger root, and orange and lime zest, with a splash of cane juice.  Cedilla tastes great neat, on the rocks, and in what we call a Cedilla Spritz, which is Cedilla and Soda with a twist of lime.  It brings great flavor and color to any cocktail, whether it’s a margarita, mojito, or caipirinha, and is a great tool for the bar chef.

What is your favorite Cachaca drink? Do you test out drink recipes yourself.
My favorite Cachaça drink is the Baseado, which means “joint” in Portuguese. While it appears a bit difficult to make, it’s one of those drinks that your friends will say “wow.”  There’s two parts to this cocktail – the base and the “espuma,” which you make via a charged foam whipper…

Base: the base is made with fresh lime (2 small wedges), 2 cucumber wheels, a sprig of cilantro, and 3-4 pieces of lemon grass, and 3 teaspoons of cane sugar.  Muddle the ingredients together, shake vigorously with ice and 2 ounce of Leblon.  Double-strain into a coupe glass.

Espuma: combine equal parts pasteurized egg whites, monin coconut syrup and Leblon Cachaça in a whip cream dispenser, and charge with nitrous oxide. Shake well and refrigerate for about two hours.

And of course – I do get to taste all our recipes myself.  Tough job!

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