Whilst the caipirinha has achieved a certain degree of international acclaim, Europe still remains relatively impartial. In these times of rum renaissance and gin revival, the cocktail somewhat languishes on the tumbler-to- do list.
When Jimmy Buffet declared “if life gives you limes then make margaritas”, chances are he was yet to discover the caipirinha. The singer’s endorsement may have done wonders for the tequila-based appetizer, but for my money there are better uses for such citrus fruit.
It’s common to see the caipirinha pigeonholed with its other LATAM muckers, the margarita and the daiquiri, but the caipirinha is more than just a cocktail – it’s a national treasure. Greens and yellows mirror the country’s epic landscapes whilst it’s hand-crafted balance of sweet and sour hint to a culture bursting with diversity and heritage. It is Brazil in a glass; once you get a taste you just want more.
The drink itself couldn’t be simpler. There are several variations on a theme and preparation, but a traditional caipirinha is made by taking a cut lime and gently muddling it with a heaped tablespoon of sugar (preferably using a socador, a wooden pestle – but any wooden spoon will suffice). The trick is to squeeze as much juice from the lime without damaging the peel, which in turn would release a bitter aftertaste. For the most authentic results you should use a freshly sliced Brazilian lime (widely available in Europe) and sugar. Throw in the ice and cachaça and mix well. It often pays to use a cocktail shaker to ensure that the ingredients mingle as much as possible.
Now you can make one, how about ordering one? Unlike its Latin American brethren, the caipirinha was coined in Portuguese, not Spanish. Most punters are still looking for the “h” in Mojito, so any trepidation as you approach the bar is to be expected given the pronunciation pitfalls of Brazilian Portuguese. Here goes – Kai-peer- REEN-ya. Strictly speaking there are four distinct syllables, but the phonetic license of the local lingo allows for a more stretched intonation. Worry not; it gets easy after the first one.
The Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1500 and, within the first century of colonialization, cachaça was already in production, with the land mostly being used to harvest sugar cane to produce sugar and black treacle, which were primarily sold to Europe. During the process of producing sugar, when the juice of the cane ferments, it forms a type of foam. This by-product was never discarded, but instead given to the domestic animals, cattle and pigs. With time, the slaves who worked in the sugar cane mills also began to receive rations, to be consumed while they worked. Not surprisingly the cachaça was a big hit with the workers and began to draw the attention of other, more refined tastes. And so, realizing the commercial potential, the production of a more superior cachaça was set in motion and Brazil started to export the drink to Europe, together with the other sugar cane based products.
Nowadays cachaça is produced in a variety of ways and, from small distilleries to the huge producers, production has been mostly industrialised for both domestic consumption and export. There are, however, the midsize artisanal producers of special or “craft” cachaças, some of them internationally acclaimed, who target a select market of cachaça connoisseurs. Regular cachaças, sold almost anywhere in Brazil, only vary by the amount of sugar added during distillation, whilst special cachaças can be stored in wooden barrels or mixed with fruits or herbs to create a more nuanced taste.
The preparation and quantities are nearly always the same, but by varying the ingredients you can surprise your friends with different types of fruit.
The traditional caipirinha, known universally by Brazilians, is made with only a few basic ingredients: 50ml of cachaça, 2 table spoons of sugar, 1 lime and some ice. Simple enough, but be warned, if you don’t know what you’re doing your cocktail might not go down quite as expected. Preparing the perfect caipirinha is an art, and today we will show you how to be the artist. Let’s get started.
Glass – use a classic tumbler, preferably one that widens from its base to its rim (you fit more in that way).
Lime – it should be medium sized, and not too hard or too soft. The peel should be a rich, green colour, and smooth to the touch. Where possible, use a Brazilian lime. Cut into 8 pieces and remove any white bits, to avoid any bitterness. Place in the glass with the peel faced downwards.
Sugar – opt for white refined sugar. Sprinkle two table spoons over the lime.
Now, in the glass, you need to knead the lime and sugar, so as to squeeze out as much lime juice as possible. You can use a range of implements to do this, but take care not to use too much force and break the coating of the peel (this will release a bitter taste).
Cachaça – any cachaça can be used to prepare a decent caipirinha, but logic dictates that the better the cachaça, the better the taste. Add 50ml to the glass (one regular shot in Brazil, two in the UK).
Mix the ingredients well, adding plenty of ice to ensure your drink hits the mark and quenches your thirst. Enjoy, you’ve just made the perfect caipirinha!
Besides lime you can also use a whole host of other fruits, like tangerine, strawberry, mango, lychee, kiwi, lemon, berries or grapes, but the quantity of sugar you use will depend on the natural sweetness of the fruit. Avoid soft fruits like bananas or papaya as they don’t have the right texture or juice content; you will end up with an alcoholic smoothie! You can also flavour with herbs, by adding a small sprig of mint or basil, or even pepper or ginger. It is best to mix the herbs with citrus fruits and the pepper or ginger with sweet fruits.
You can also use alcoholic alternatives to cachaça, like vodka (caipiroska) or sake (sakerinha).
Vodka goes with any fruit, but the sake shouldn’t be mixed with citrus fruits, but sweeter, more delicate fruits, like grapes or lychees.
All these variations can also be prepared using a cocktail shaker, which will guarantee that all the elements are mixed thoroughly, resulting in a smoother, better blended taste.