Picture yourself in Rio De Janeiro. You’re lying on the beach. The Dois Irmãos mountains are off in the distance. You’re admiring the beautiful scenery and the beautiful people. As the day heats up, you need something to cool you down. May we suggest a caipirinha, the most popular alcoholic drink in Brazil.
Caipirinha (cah-preen-ha) is Brazil’s national cocktail. It’s made with sugar, lime and cachaça (cah-ja-sa), a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. You may also hear cachaça referred to as aguardente, pinga, or caninha.
It’s a little popular. In 2010, cachaça producer Pirassununga 51 sold almost 19.5 million cases of the sugary firewater in Brazil alone. That’s more cases than Bacardi sold worldwide in the same year. And Pirassununga 51 is only one of Brazil’s more than 500 cachaça distillers.
It’s safe to say everyone drinks caipirinhas in Brazil.
The History of the Caipirinha
There are many stories about the caipirinha’s origin. Its main ingredient, cachaça, likely appeared not long after sugarcane was introduced to Brazil back in the 1550s.
Some say slaves working on sugar plantations developed the caipirinha recipe. They added sugar and citrus to the cachaça they produced, making the harsh liquor more palatable to drink.
Others say the drink evolved from a cold remedy of lemon, honey and cachaça. Another theory attributes the recipe to Portuguese slave traders who added limes to their cachaça to prevent scurvy on the long trip back to Europe.
Many theories; one spectacular drink.
Our Caipirinha Experience
We drank caipirinhas with almost every meal in Rio. Restaurants dedicated entire menus to caipirinha variations and we wanted to try them all.
It also helped that we were there during the Confederations Cup. Suffice to say, caipirinhas were flowing. Especially when Brazil beat Spain in the final.
One recipe variation that stood out was the rose caipirinha. Flavored with rose petals and black peppercorns, it was beautiful to look at. The flavor was incredible: slightly sweet, light, an essence of perfume. My only complaint was the peppercorns, which were crunchy and would get caught in the straw.
Some of the caipirinhas were (almost) too strong to drink. Not because of the alcohol content – (we’re champs!) – but because of the variations in cachaça quality. Lower quality cachaça contains more impurities, giving the drink a harsher taste.
If you drink too many off-brand caipirinhas, here’s how to ask the locals for a hangover cure.
How to Make a Caipirinha at Home
Once a long-time Brazilian secret, the caipirinha’s popularity is catching on worldwide as cachaça exports grow. And if you can’t get cachaça, you can always use rum in its place.
If you’re doing it up proper style, be sure to muddle only the lime flesh and not the peel. That will help keep the drink from being overly bitter.
Caipirinha Recipe (Serves Two)
Using old fashioned glasses:
- Cut a couple of limes very thinly and put into the glass.
- Add a tablespoon of sugar. Brazilians like theirs super sweet and use up to three tablespoons for a single serving. Adjust to your taste.
- Muddle the lime and sugar together, avoiding the peel as much as possible.
- Add a couple shots of cachaça.
- Stir well and add ice cubes.