Sometime last June, while visiting Rio after a business trip in São Paulo, my mother-in-law took me to a very special place.
She took me to the mall.
Now, new readers might understandably judge me on this basis and consider such a trip somewhere between a gross affront to all world travelers ("You crossed the equator to go to... the mall?") and an incredibly unmanly capitulation ("You crossed the equator so that... your mother-in-law could take you to the mall?"). Long-time readers know better: 1) My mother-in-law is cooler than any of us and 2) me going out of my way to go to a shopping mall is a truly Nixon-goes-to-China moment.
Now, within this mall is something you will be hard-pressed to find in the U.S.—something that the various needling do-gooders and joyless regulators would never allow to widely proliferate in the country that at one time held freedom as its highest-order ideal.
That's right... Within the Nova América mall, about 20 yards from such standard mall fare as a McDonald's and Subway Sandwiches, lies a restaurant with great food, a world-class collection of artesenal cachaças and, yes, its very own (damn good) cachaça produced on-premises.
Of course, running a cachaça distillery in a mall is not without its difficulties and challenges. For one thing, there's no place to grow the cane. In Petisco da Vila's case, it has to be trucked in and stored before crushing. Sometimes, try as one might, it can't always be from the same source. Fair sacrifice.
For another, note the fume hood over the still in the photo below. It turned out that the employees working in the store above the still were wondering why their days were... going... by... just... a... little... bit... slower. The fume hood is an attempt to remedy this though I'm sure that, during my own time working in retail, I might've quite welcomed such a secondhand experience.
Third, even the most expansive and well-planned malls are often starved for space. Cane-crushing, fermenting, aging, labeling and inventory storage take place in a series of tiny rooms along an easy-to-miss hallway between two stores. (See below.)
A good chunk of inventory (and there's plenty, as you'll see in the video) ends up in this tiny Harry-Potter's-bedroom closet here.
The distillery master, who goes by the nickname Zara (below) is impressive just as much for the quality of his product as a near-encyclopedic knowledge of hard-rock guitar players that even rivals my own. He sent me home with a generous amount of samples.