Dragos Axinte On Novo Fogo Cachaças & How He Is Building “The Un-Endangered Forest”

By Darren Paltrowitz | October 23, 2018

The rare spirit company which produces beverages that are simultaneously delicious, sustainable and in-demand, the Novo Fogo distillery stands out from the pack. Founder and CEO Dragos Axinte — a University Of Washington-schooled entrepreneur — has been overseeing a reforestation program where Novo Fogo rehabs species of endangered Brazilian native trees that have been decimated by decades of misuse. He calls this “The Un-Endangered Forest.” Novo Fogo also holds its own in producing high-quality canned cocktails, like its Sparkling Caipirinha.

Other popular offerings available from Novo Fogo are its Silver Cachaça (as rested in stainless steel tanks), its Chameleon (aged one year in American oak), and its Barrel-Aged Cachaça (aged two years in American oak). Novo Fogo also sells cocktail kits online through its website so you can make your very own authentic and organic Caipirinha or Brazilian Old Fashioned at home.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Dragos Axinte about the past, present and future of Novo Fogo. Simply put, Axinte’s responses manage to come across as inspirational, intelligent and light-hearted all at once. The guy clearly loves what he does while also succeeding with fulfilling larger-scale, sustainability-related goals. More on Novo Fogo can be found online at www.novofogo.com.

What was your entry in the spirits world?

Dragos Axinte: I’ve always been a fan of Brazil, since I was a little kid growing up in Eastern Europe. I liked their soccer teams. Once I moved to the USA in 1991, I started a company that sourced some of its production from Southern Brazil. I went there for two days in 2005 and I fell in love with Brazil, Brazilians, Brazilian steak, and caipirinhas. After that I followed the development of the cachaça category in the U.S. for several years, until my wife Emily and I realized that there was business opportunity there. That day a new dream was born and a new company followed a year later.

To you, what makes Novo Fogo different from other cachaças-makers?

Dragos Axinte: Everything in our being revolves around sustainability. Our distillery is surrounded by protected rainforest habitat and we are leaders in our small community, so we must do everything in a way that inspires good business methods to our neighbors, our peers, and our customers. Currently we are building a reforestation program where we rehab species of endangered Brazilian native trees that have been decimated by decades of misuse, by our own industry and others. We call it “The Un-Endangered Forest.”

Our distillery is also zero-waste and USDA 100% organic certified. You know how when you go to a restaurant that sources organic ingredients from small local farms, the food always tastes better? It’s about the same thing with our cachaças. Because of the delightful aroma of our world, our clean production processes, and our pursuit of excellence, I do believe — yes I do — that our cachaças are the best in the world. And although we rarely enter award competitions, we do win them.

What is a typical day with you like Novo Fogo?

Dragos Axinte: My only “me” time is having breakfast while reading the news on my computer. This is somewhere around 7:00 AM. By 7:30 AM I start the video calls in many time zones, starting with Europe, then Brazil, then the U.S. East Coast and the Midwest. Inevitably some things happen that require my attention late morning. Lunch is usually about 30 minutes while watching a sitcom episode with Emily for decompression. Sometimes I fall asleep for 4 minutes after lunch. Then I go with the West Coast video and phone calls and conversations with my team members, and perhaps a random call with someone in Asia or Australia around 5:00 PM.

Some of these calls are often replaced with in-person meetings, but I use my Bluetooth headset to continue my calls in the car to and from the meetings. I am a very careful driver! By 6:00 PM I get to start working on my own projects and right before dinner — which is around 8:00 PM or 9:00 PM — I answer 10 percent of the hundreds of emails I received that day. This is typical for a non-travel day. When I travel, it gets really complicated…

I’m an entrepreneur, I don’t have free time. Luckily I like what I do. Note to prospective entrepreneurs: pick work that you love, or else you will fail, go crazy, or die, or maybe all of them.

What is your drink of choice when it comes to Novo Fogo?

Dragos Axinte: This is like asking which of my children I love more. They are all different, and I love them all equally. I do use them differently, and attached you can see the Novo Fogo cocktails that I have on my home bar (“Tiger ‘Tails”) menu right now.

With that said, I will answer this a bit differently by saying that the traditional way to drink cachaça in the Brazilian South is aged in American oak, ex-bourbon. So our Barrel-Aged expression is the most traditional and perhaps a bit of our legacy. It was also named the best cachaça in the world during a blind tasting by Cúpula da Cachaça in São Paulo in 2016. We count that one because it was a blind tasting, thus more meaningful.

What is coming up for Novo Fogo in the coming months?

Dragos Axinte: We’re cooking up some new flavors of our Sparkling Caipirinha, so the original does not get lonely on the shelves.

What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Dragos Axinte: I DID actually see two concerts on the same weekend recently! One was Florence + The Machine, who is always inspirational, energetic, intense, and deeply emotional. The other was a sisterly folk duo from Sweden called First Aid Kit. They sing about wolves and woods and are awesome. Their original claim to fame was a cover of a song called “Tiger Mountain Pheasant Song” from a Seattle band named Fleet Foxes. This is meaningful to me because Tiger Mountain is a real mountain and I live on it.

Finally, Dragos, any last words for the kids?

Dragos Axinte: I live my life according to a few simple rules, which provide a filter for all decisions — big or small, personal or professional. One of them is that what goes around, comes around. It’s called “karma” and it is my religion. A bunch of other things fall from it and together they make it easy for me to get up in the morning and put one foot in foot in front of the other. It took me about 10 years of adulthood to come up with these rules, but it’s never too early to start working on your own, kids!

Dragos Axinte On Novo Fogo Cachaças & How He Is Building “The Un-Endangered Forest”
The Hype Magazine | October 23, 2018