Of all things Brazilian, you’ve probably heard of caipirinha, our heraldic emblem and one of Brazil’s greatest contributions to the food and wine world. Refreshing, cool, sweet, and relaxing, caipirinha is Brazil. And if caipirinha is Brazil, then cachaça is our national shrine.
The spirit was invented in the mid 1500s in Brazil, when Portuguese colonizers began to cultivate sugar cane. Back then, somewhere in a sugar mill around São Paulo some stems of rough cane were forgotten, left to sit around and yielded a foamy, non-alcoholic juice that naturally fermented. The drink had a strong effect on the body, frequently used as a painkiller, and served to slaves at the time.
Eventually the Portuguese decided to distill and age it, creating a new type of aguardente (spirits distilled from fruits or vegetables) and named it cachaça. There are many different kinds of wood (oak, cherry, and jequitiba rosa among them) used for aging the spirit, each leaving different traces of taste; some with a more floral flavor, others with a hint of vanilla or cinnamon.
Cachaça was considered a poor man’s drink, and the disdain lingered for quite some time. But in Brazil in the current wave of “waking up” to our own ingredients, the culture has changed a lot, and today cachaca couldn’t be more in vogue and caipirinhas have reached a global audience.
In the US, cachaça is also called Brazilian rum and the distillation process is quite similar indeed. The difference however, is that rum is distilled from molasses (which also comes from sugar cane) while cachaça is distilled from the fresh sugar cane juices. Good cachaça has an intense aroma and flavor of fresh sugar cane.
Essentially, caipirinha is a simple cocktail based on a mixture of mashed lime with sugar, ice, and cachaça. As elementary as it is, there are a few variables that could make all the difference in your drink.
The lime should be cut into medium-sized chunks. It is then mashed with sugar by a wooden muddler until the lime releases its oils. Transfer this mixture to a shaker, add some ice, cachaca, shake it, and pour. Done!
I like my caipirinha on the lighter side, although it’s very common to use a bit stronger dose then suggested here.
Another important point is that caipirinha is not the type of drink to serve out of a pitcher. It’s also not the type of drink you can prepare in advance. For the sake of great taste, each must be prepared individually, shaken individually, and immediately poured into a wide sturdy glass. Of course, this creates catering obstacles. Once I bought the biggest shaker I could find and when I needed to serve a large group of people, I could assemble 2 to 3 caipirinhas at a time. On the other hand, making caipirinha doesn’t take more than a minute per cocktail, and part of the fun is making them.
Makes 1 caipirinha
1 tablespoon sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons cachaça (adjust amount to taste)
- Cut the two ends of the lime and cut lime into medium chunk wedges.
- Using a muddler, mash the lime with sugar, making sure to squeeze all the juices and to dissolve the sugar in the juice.
- Transfer the lime mixture to a shaker. Add the cachaca and ice cubes. Shake well (about 8 to10 times) and pour into a large (but not tall) sturdy glass.