Before traveling to Brazil a few years back I did some research on the local libations. It was immediately evident that their national cocktail is the caipirinha (pronounced kai-puh-REEN-ya). Made with only three modest ingredients – cachaca, fresh limes and granulated raw sugar – it’s an authentic Brazilian tradition that won’t break the bank.
So What Is Cachaca?
Cachaca (which is pronounced kuh-SHA-suh) is a distilled liquor made from sugar cane. Many people refer to it as Brazilian rum and traditionally it was revered as the “poor man’s drink”. The cheaper variety is unaged and clear in color, like vodka. The smoother, more expensive varieties are aged for one to three years and have a golden hue.
The cachaca brand that I saw most often in Brazil was “51.” It is 80 proof and can currently be purchased in the United States for about $18 a liter. If your local liquor store doesn’t carry it, you might be able to get the proprietor to special order a bottle for you.
Fair warning though … Cachaca 51 is not a brand you’re going to want to drink straight. If that is your pleasure, I’d recommend purchasing one of the longer-aged varieties.
1½ ounces cachaca
1 lime* (Remove one slice from the middle for garnish and then cut the remainder into wedges.)
2 teaspoons raw sugar**
Muddle the lime and sugar together in a highball glass and then fill with ice. Add the cachaca. Be sure to stir well to incorporate and dissolve the sugar. Garnish with your lime slice.
* Don’t substitute bottled lime juice for the fresh lime. You won’t be happy with the result, and you’ll end up with a drink that is a poor representation of the real thing.
**If you don’t want to buy raw sugar to make your caipirinha you can just use granulated white sugar. In my experience, that’s what the majority of bars use in the US anyway.
And speaking of bars in the US … If you decide to order one of these tasty treats at your favorite upscale watering hole, forget what I said about cachaca being the poor man’s drink. Expect to pay dearly for this Brazilian pleasure.