Written by Staff Writer Simone Talarico
Brazil is well known for its Carnaval, soccer and beautiful women. Yes, they have all these, and more. But one thing Brazilians are starting to be known for is their national cocktail, Caipirinha. This traditional Brazilian drink, prepared with muddled lime, sugar, ice and the liquor known as Cachaça, has become a global phenomenon, and now it is taking over the U.S.
Caipirinha owes its growing popularity to the increasing availability of its base ingredient, Cachaça (second c carries a cedilla). Cachaça - or "KA-SHAH-SA" - is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice and it is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Its origins date back to the 1500s, making it older than its distant cousin - and always confused with- rum. Both rum and Cachaça are made from sugarcane, but specifically with Cachaça, the alcohol results from the fermentation of sugarcane juice, that is afterwards distilled, whereas rum is usually made from molasses. “Historians date the initial creation of Cachaça between 1532 and 1550 in Brazil, predating the date of creation of rum, that happened in 1651 in Barbados, by more than one hundred years,” explains Steve Luttmann, founder and President of ‘Leblon Cachaça’, the most popular brand in the U.S.
Since Cachaça is made from fresh cane juice, and not molasses, it has a fruitier, fresher taste than rum. Its taste is subtly sweet and fresh, and since it comes directly from the crop, Cachaça has distinctive vegetal notes reminiscent of tequila. “From a consumer standpoint, it is very confusing to call Cachaça the ‘Brazilian White Rum’, because when you taste it, it does not taste anything like rum,” argues Luttmann.
So why then the rum confusion? According to U.S. law, any spirit derived from sugar cane must be labeled as rum - in Cachaça's case, ‘Brazilian Rum’. This nomenclature has been in dispute for some time, with discussion and consideration of separating Cachaça into its own ‘class’, like tequila. There is even a movement called ‘Legalize Cachaça’ which seeks to establish the beverage as ‘Brazil's Noble Spirit’, with its own ‘Cachaça Declaration of Independence of Rum’.
The movement has had its first victory. Last April, the U.S. Government agreed to start the process to recognize Cachaça as a distinctive product of Brazil. In turn, Brazil will designate both Bourbon Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey as distinctive American goods. This will allow for greater trade in spirits between the United States and Brazil. The new status will come into effect sometime in the next year. “I always look at Cachaça as a metaphor of Brazil. Brazil is coming of age in various aspects, and its national spirit is too, after being disrespected for so long, because people do not understand of how much quality you can get from sugar cane,” says Luttmann.
Cachaça, a traditional national lubricant
In Brazil, 40,000 distillers make 4,000 different brands of Cachaça, totaling over two billion liters of Cachaça on a yearly basis. According to the Brazilian Cachaça Institute's website, the country sold US$ 17.28 million worth of Cachaça to 60 countries last year, totaling 9.80 million liters. The U.S. is amongst the five main importers of the liquor.
Like most liquors, there are Cachaças and there are Cachaças. The most common brands of Cachaça are produced industrially in column stills, and they are not aged after distillation, or are only aged for a short time in steel vats. These Cachaças are colorless liquids, tend to be less expensive and lighter in flavor. There are more fine Cachaça produced in alembic type copper stills, which are aged in wood. They range in color from light blond to dark brown, and are more expensive and flavorful.
Brazilian law requires that Cachaça be distilled no higher than 54% alcohol by volume, and bottled between 38% and 48% alcohol by volume. That being said, most export Cachaça has alcohol content similar to vodka, tequila, rum, or gin - 40% alcohol by volume (or 80 proof).
Introducing the Caipirinha
Caipirinha (pronounced kai-pur-EEN-ya, with the emphasis on the third syllable) has gone beyond the borders of its tropical country, and it has become a global cocktail. It has also been incorporated within the heady world of mixology and the International Bartenders Association has designated it as one of their Official Cocktails, listed in the Contemporary Classics index.
There are multiple variations of the classic Caipirinha. Some use honey instead of sugar, others use vodka instead of Cachaça, hence the name Caipivodka. The concept of the cocktail can be used to describe any Cachaça-and-fruit-juice drink, the so-called Caipifruta, a very popular Caipirinha drink in Brazil, consisting of Cachaça, crushed fresh fruits (either singly or in combination), and crushed ice. The most popular fresh fruits used to create Caipifruta are strawberry, kiwi, passion fruit, pineapple, mango and grapes.
There is science and talent that goes into making a perfect Caipirinha. But one important word to pay attention to when making your own Caipirinha is ‘muddle’. Although not referring to your state of mind after drinking a couple of Caipirinhas (although that can become a reality), it’s referring to the action of pressing down ingredients in the bottom of the glass to combine them, usually with a wooden pestle. Now, a native hint: when you’re muddling the lime and sugar together, do not crush the lime pieces too much, as this will induce bitterness into the drink. The balance of sweet and sour is important, and you can adjust the mix of sugar to lime after you’ve made the first drink. Now get your inner samba dancers on, and let’s make the classic Caipirinha!
- 1/2 lime, sliced into 4 wedges
- 1 to 2 teaspoons of fine sugar
- 1 cup of ice
- 2 ounces of Cachaça
Simple directions: Gently muddle the lime and sugar in a cocktail shaker or in a glass using a pestle. Add the ice and the Cachaça, shake, and pour the drink with ice into a glass.
1. Choose a fresh lime.
2. Wash the lime and roll it on your chopping board with the heel of your hand to loosen the juice. Chop the ends off the lime and cut through it slightly off-centre and then diagonally to make quarters.
3. Remove the white ‘stem’ from the apex of the slices and halve the slices again to make a total of 8 pieces of lime.
4. Place the lime pieces and sugar in a glass and muddle with a wooden pestle.
5. Add ice to the glass and pour over the Cachaça.
6. It’s best to mix the drink by using a shaker, but you can just stir it as well.
7. Sip the drink! Slowly.
VIDEO: How to Make a Capirinha