If you are not from Europe or if you don’t work in the spirits business, you probably haven’t heard about Philippe Mille. I didn’t either untill couple of years ago when our paths crossed and since then we are in constant contact. One of the reasons is that we „kinda” work together in some projects and the other that he's a very interesting guy.
As you will see, he is a very pleasant person and really likes to talk with people. This is a rather very long interview, I'll give you that. I think it is by far the longest that I’ve made so far, but Philippe is a very genuine guy. His way around things is very catchy and he is a very pleasant person to be around with. So bare with me, because this is something that you would not want to miss.
In the last second before publishing this interview, I decided to cut it in half. Even though I think that this interview deserves to be savoured as a whole, I think it can be too much for someone who is just familiarizing with the hospitality world. This being said, if you have enjoyed this first part, come back soon for the second part. We have cookies! :>
1. Hello Philippe and thank you very much for your time. First of all, for those who’ve missed your presentation last year in Romania, who are you and what do you do for a living?
Hi Mihai, firstly thanks for the opportunity. Great to be talking with you guys in Romania!
My name is Philippe Mille, I’m 39 and for the last 2 years I’ve been living in Sens, north Burgundy, not too far from the Chablis area 😉 and about 1:30h south east from Paris, where I was living before, since 2002!
For the last 3 years, I’ve been working on my own, as an independent agent/brand ambassador/consultant for different drinks companies, mainly Novo Fogo Cachaca, but also a Cognac & Liqueurs house and a Sake brand. Overall, I am helping these brands to develop their business across Europe.
Setting up distribution in different markets, working together with importers to develop sales and brand awareness in existing markets and travelling to markets to help our partners with trainings, promote the brands in trade shows, etc.
And before that I worked for Leblon Cachaca for 10 years, helping to develop the brand in Europe and Asia Pacific regions. The brand was acquired by Bacardi-Martini group in 2016.
2. On your Facebook account, we can see that even though you are living now in France, you are from Rio de Janeiro. How is life in Brazil when talking about bars and cocktails?
Yes, I am from Rio de Janeiro where I lived until 2002. I’m French-Brazilian actually, born in Rio, from a Brazilian mum and a French dad 😉 The funny thing is that after my dad immigrate to Brazil in the early 50’s, the rest of the French family moved there as well, some years later. So, I really grew up in contact with both cultures. It never felt weird to eat escargots or drink sugar cane juice, hahaha.
Cocktails are something quite new in Brazil. Even though we’ve some classics like Caipirinha and Batidas and others less known internationally like Rabo de Galo or Bomberinho, proper cocktails bars have been developing a lot, only in the last 10-15 years. A bit like everywhere else in the world. Of course, we had a few good bars before that, and had some bartenders that are long standing legends, but there is a real boom lately.
Most of the good cocktail bars are in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital and then we’ve Rio de Janeiro with some nice bars as well. In the other big cities (over 1 million inhabitants) almost all of them have a handful of good bars.
At the beginning, the cocktail scene was pretty much a copycat of what you could find in the main cities in Europe or US, but with less products and tools. Then step by step the bars in Brazil found their style and adapt to the local demand, as well.
I mean, a city like Rio is quite informal, tropical weather all year round, people live as much as possible outdoors. It does not make sense to focus on ‘’prohibition-era’’, boozy drinks and forget the local ingredients. Sao Paulo, on the other hand, has a more ‘’European’’ lifestyle in terms of bars, restaurants, and nightlife in general. But overall, they all have a Brazilian swing, no matter in which city you go. You must go there to understand that swing 😉
3. Even though in Romania, people are not so much familiar with cachaça, in Brazil it is number one when coming to spirit choice. How did that happen?
Well, in Brazil cachaça is basically the only local spirit available.
To be totally fair, there is another spirit call Tiquira, which is a distillate from manioc (or cassava) and comes exclusively from Maranhao, a state in the northeast region. My mum is from there actually.
And lately we have seen some distilleries doing molasses rum, but that is mainly for export. Also, several local craft gin brands trying to surf on the G&T trend, and some local vermouths, using Brazilian fruits and herbs, which is a direct influence from the cocktail scene I mention before.
But all those categories in Brazil are quite small in terms of volume compared to cachaça.
Cachaça is among the top 5 most consumed spirit categories in the world and Brazil doesn’t export not even 2% of its annual production. 😊 You also have to understand that we can produce Cachaça anywhere is Brazil.
You have distilleries from the north, near the Amazon forest all the way to the south, near the border with Uruguay and Argentina. It is quite crazy to picture this way: Brazil is the same size as Europe.
Imagine if all over Europe was just one spirit being produced, instead of Cognac, Armagnac, Bagaceira, Grappa, Palinka, Gin, Vodka, etc. According to IBRAC (Brazilian Cachaça Institute), there are 1483 producers, for 4182 different brands of Cachaça in the Brazilian market. And I am talking only the registered ones 😉
Also, Brazil is by far the biggest sugar cane producer in the world (29,5 million metric tons). Twice as much as India, the 2nd one in the list. All that sugar cane is not only for Cachaça, of course. We use for sugar, but mainly energy: sugar cane ethanol.
FYI, cars in Brazil have what we call flex fuel engines, they can run either with petrol or ethanol. You can choose whatever is cheaper on the pump.
4. What about Caipirinha? Is it really a „peasant’s drink”?
Caipirinha is THE national drink in Brazil!! But while here in Europe, people see caipirinha as the unique combination of lime, sugar, Cachaça, and ice, in Brazil it became a standalone style of cocktail:
- muddled fruit (any kind, from well-known strawberries and passion fruit to typically Brazilian ones like Pitanga or Acerola)
- a sweetener (can be sugar, but also honey, agave syrup, rapadura, etc)
- sometimes a ’funky’’ ingredient like herbs, bitters, vinegar, spices
Cachaça is not always king, when it comes to the spirit, some people prefer to replace it for Vodka or even Sake, what we call Caipivodka or Caipisake, but that’s more limited to some posh neighbourhoods in the big cities. But Cachaça is getting more popular again among healthy Brazilians.
The number of premium, high quality brands is increasing, and craft bartenders are highlighting Cachaça more and more in their creations.
Historically, Cachaça have been associated with ‘’less sophisticated Brazilians’’, usually people from the countryside, but again, that is changing. Oddly, the Caipirinha, despite the name (literally means ”little peasant girl’’), is largely consumed in urban environments, not in the countryside.
Simply put: No, Caipirinha is not a peasant drink. In the agricultural areas of Brazil, where Cachaça is produced, it’s mostly consumed neat. Usually in a shot glass, but people sip it. And sometimes with a cold beer on the side, like a boilermaker.
5. What other mixed drinks can you recommend for us to try in order to have a slight feeling of the brazilian vibe?
Brazil is a huge country. With a lot of different landscapes and climates, so, you can go for Batidas if you are searching the tropical feel. Batidas are fruity and creamy concoctions, usually made with Cachaça, fruit of your choice, cream or condensed milk and ice (some lime juice for balance maybe required), preferably in a blender or a good hard shake can do it.
In a more urban environment, why not a Rabo de Galo, an homage to the huge Italian influence in Brazil, especially in Sao Paulo. You can say it is a Brazilian twist on the Negroni.
50ml Cachaça (the recipe calls for an unaged Cachaça, but I personally like a light-medium oak aged Cachaça here)
20ml Carpano Classico
10ml of Cynar
Or if you’re in the northeast region, land of the famous Caju nut, but Caju is actually a fruit with a nut on top. Few people outside Brazil realize that. It is one of my favourite fruits, so why not a Caju Amigo:
50ml Caju juice
20ml Caju syrup
20ml lime juice
In a tall glass with ice, pour the Caju syrup. Shake all the other ingredients in a shaker and strain in the tall glass. With a bar spoon stir the drink and serve.
Or if you’re inland Brazil, during the winter season and the folkloric festivities in June and July (we’re in the south hemisphere, and yes, some parts of Brazil can be a bit cold 😉 ) you can try the Quentao, is similar to a gluhwein, but with Cachaça. It’s a warm punch that takes: Aged Cachaça, lemon, orange, sugar, water, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, apple, plum.[end of part one]