The national drink of Brazil!
So last week I told you about a day I had on the beach and mentioned a little Brazilian bar and the amazing drink called the caipirinha. But many of you may be asking yourself; just what is this drink you speak of? So, I’ve decided to hold a little cocktail 101 and shed some light on a great summertime cocktail.
This delicious concoction is a mixture of cachaça, sugar, and lime. To really understand and appreciate this drink there are three things we must first know; how to say the name of the drink so we don’t look foolish ordering it, its history, and most importantly how to make it.
Well, if you are going to bother learning how to properly say caipirinha, I guess you might as well pronounce the main ingredient correctly as well. Cachaça is pronounced “Ca-Shah-sa” and is liquor made from fermented sugarcane juice, so it’s sugar cane rum; big point there already. The word itself is specific to Brazil. The drink is pronounced “Kai-Pee-Reen-Ya”. And trust me, if you order it and say it wrong you will be corrected by the server if you are in a Brazilian bar/restaurant.
History lesson, History Lesson
So now you’ve got the pronunciation down, so let’s drink already! Not so fast, let’s first look into the wonderful history of this drink and the history of its ingredients.
Cachaça is the main ingredient in this concoction and is Brazil’s most common distilled alcoholic beverage. It is made from sugarcane which originated in the South Pacific and through several transactions and passages over time made its way via the Canary Islands and Atlantic to Brazil.
Cachaça is a cousin of rum, as rum too is derived from sugarcane products. However, with cachaça, the alcohol results from the fermentation of sugarcane juice that is afterwards distilled. Cachaça either comes in un-aged (white) or aged (gold) varieties. The white is typically bottled immediately and is what’s used in the caipirinha as well as other cachaça based drinks. Dark or aged cachaça is aged in wood barrels from 3 to 15 years and is usually drank straight.
Cachaça was created early in the colonization of Brazil in the province of São Vicente, what is known today as São Paulo. At first Cachaça was made in secret by slaves and had little market but eventually caught on as a popular drink. Its Production soon spread to Campos dos Goitacases which was known for the production of sugar cane. In fact, the drink was so important that Campos dos Goitacases was a stage for the Cachaça Revolt in 1660. Rebels actually took over Rio de Janeiro for five months, simply because of a prohibition against the production of aguardente (alcohol/firewater).
The caipirinha itself was originally developed by Brazilian slaves when they got the idea to mix cachaça with various fruit juices such as lime. These juices were at first ignored by the white elite. The predecessor to the caipirinha was the lime batida, which became complete when they added sugar and lime peel.
But from its humble beginnings this cocktail has garnered international fame and is considered one of the seven classical cocktail drinks of the world by the International Barmen Association. There are around 30 thousand producers of cachaça of five thousand different labels in Brazil with an annual production of 1.3 billion liters of which 70 million liters are exported; destined to over 70 countries.
The caipirinhas has no industrial production as the tradition dictates that each should make their own, or for friends, or of course in a bar or restaurant where the bartender prepares a single drink for each customer; never ordered in a pitcher or as a large punch.
The caipirinha is not considered a daily drink like cachaça. The preparing of a caipirinha is seen as a festive ritual. One must know how to prepare the drink properly, a task that is always given to someone considered to be an expert.
OK, I feel I must explain the above picture. You see in the US, cachaça is officially classified as “Brazilian rum”, which it simply isn’t. Thus the slogan, “Legalize Cachaça!” If you look closely one of the signs is giving an explanation of the difference between the two spirits. Simply put rum is from distilling molases, and as we’ve learned, Cachaça is from distilling the sugar cane juice.
But back to the 1600’s! Wow, a revolt and mixing experts; now that’s taking a drink seriously! Makes you wonder, would there have been a boat drink revolution led by Don the beachcomber if prohibition had occurred later in time? I’d say yes, tiki torches in hand and coconut slingshots at the ready!
OK, history lesson over! I have one final bit of trivia then we can start mixing up our drinks. Interestingly one who really enjoys a caipirinha is not always one who cares greatly for cachaça. This is because the drink is seen as lighter and more socially accepted, while cachaça is considered too strong. So, caipirinhas are seen as festive concoctions of cachaça; and traditionally that is how they are consumed.
But I say we are alive and well and that is cause for celebration in my book so let’s break out the cachaça, the sugar, and slice up the limes!!!
More important information…….but can’t we just drink already?
First, It’s important to note that most cachaça made in Brazil is made industrially so it’s a rough spirit. This means that there may be some lime pulp and oils from the peel. So using a more strongly flavored brown sugar will help soften it. However if you are using a refined cachaça It’s better to use a simple syrup.
Place lime wedges and sugar in a rocks glass and muddle to release the juice as well as the oils in the peel. Add crushed ice, the cachaça, and stir the drink. Top off up with ice, and most importantly; enjoy.
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