If you're wondering how to make caipirinha, let's start by saying that caipirinha is made with Brazil’s national distilled spirit cachaça. It’s often called “Brazilian Rum” but that isn’t exactly the case. Rum is often distilled from a sugarcane byproduct, molasses, whereas Cachaça is fermented and distilled straight from the sugarcane juice. They might sound similar on paper, but in the glass it’s a whole different world.
It's safe to say that globally Cachaça is hugely undervalued. It’s seen as the cheap South American booze unworthy of any serious tasting. Only Brazilians and people who have lived there drink it. That might have been true in the past when the general attitude was “no matter how they make it or who makes it, it all tastes the same”.
Nowadays you can find a wide range of small distilleries that make everything from site-specific “terroir” cachaças to old barrel aged ones with the panache of old rums and whiskies.
In a relatively short time a deep appreciation of cachaça has emerged and people have really started getting geeky with it. It is usually consumed with traditional Brazilian food like feijoada, surrounded by friends and family while noisily discussing important things like football, politics and TV soap operas.
The cocktail culture around cachaça is not as developed as with some other spirits like rum or tequila. Although there are bartenders using cachaça in all kinds of cocktails it seems the innovation stopped at caipirinha, the simple drink made of lime, sugar, cachaça and ice, a drink that on a good day can be as good as the best of them.
How to make caipirinha: lime and sugar
Making a good caipirinha isn’t rocket science yet somehow it’s hard to find a good caipirinha outside of Brazil. The first step is the lime. The use of ripe and juicy limes is the cornerstone of this drink. Use too little and what you have is just a cachaça on the rocks with a twist. I’d say at least one whole lime per drink but some use even more.
Then there’s the sugar. I have never seen a Brazilian putting brown sugar in a caipirinha so I suggest we all stop doing that. In fact many Brazilian bartenders use fine sugar to better mix it with the lime juice to balance the acidity, and you know what, it works. No crunchy sugar in my caipirinha, thank you.
The locals seem to be very relaxed with the use of sugar and usually a tablespoon or two does the trick depending on the amount of lime and its ripeness. At this point you mash the sliced lime and sugar together using a muddler. Next you fill the mixing glass with ice and pour over the cachaça.
a good caipirinha? don't be shy with cachaca
There is a certain hand gesture in Brazil where they slap their hands together repeatedly meaning something like “I don’t care”, “whatever” or “do what you like”. Apply this hand gesture here. The exact amount of cachaça is hard to say because nobody uses a measure in Brazil. But I would say don’t be shy with the cachaça. I rarely saw a caipirinha with less than 8cl of cachaça.
Outside of Brazil some tweak the drink by adding mint. In a country where you can get away with pretty much anything with just a quick thumbs-up and cheeky smile, you wont be able to get away with adding mint to your caipirinha. Same goes with soda water. In the end you shake and serve the caipirinha in an old fashioned glass.
caipirinha recipes: a few variations allowed
There is quite a few variations of caipirinha. One of the most well-known versions is caipiroska where instead of cachaça you use vodka, which basically makes it nothing more than a lime juice screwdriver. In Brazil fruits are abundant so there is many delicious substitutes for lime. For example, passion fruit caipirinha seems to be a popular choice.
Alex Atala’s restaurant D.O.M. serves a caju caipirinha that is made with cashew fruit. If you ever find yourself in a situation with caju caipirinhas it’s a must-try. As long as you have cachaça feel free to freestyle, but whatever you do don’t mess with the original caipirinha.
So, whether you are watching the Summer Olympics or not it would be unwise to skip this magnificent cocktail. Saúde!