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The Place: Minas Gerais, Brazil
The Poison: A clear alcohol distilled from sugarcane, cachaça is the national spirit of Brazil—and a major contributor to Brazil's national spirit. Unaged, it has a strong rumlike kick and is best mixed with sugar and muddled lime in the drink known as the caipirinha. Aged, however, the almost astringent taste becomes woodier, like tequila reposado.
The Buzz: The state just north of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais is a lush interior land of small mountains and gushing waterfalls that's best known for mining (the name means "general mines"), beautiful women, and, more importantly, excellent cachaça. Make for the gorgeous historical town of Ouro Preto, with steep cobblestone streets, 19th-century Portuguese architecture, and welcoming people.
Down the Hatch: Minas Gerais has some of the best independent cachaça producers in Brazil, and it's a charming region that sees few foreign tourists. Sit down at one of Ouro Preto's cachaçarias and taste samples from a variety of the often unmarked bottles. You may even find a jug with special flavor additives—an entire, floating pit viper, for instance. (They swear it's safe to drink, but, well, we'll let you go first.)
Sleep It Off: Check into the Hotel Fazenda Boa Vista. Though it's close to the main square, it sits on its own landscaped grounds with a 12-room main lodge, ten small casitas, and access to trails and waterfalls. The decor is rubber-baron colonial, with large oil paintings, ornate Portuguese furniture, and a billiards room that's a great backdrop for a bottle of cachaça—and a beautiful woman.
Drink at Home: The piquant Cachaça Pirapora is one of the more complex cachaças exported to the States ($18 from Garnet Wines & Liquors, 212-772-3211, www.garnetwine.com).
Hotel Fazenda Boa Vista
Tel: 55 31 3551 3423
Doubles from $95