Since Americans were introduced to Cachaça in a big way over the last 15+ years in the form of the Caipirinha, there has been lot’s of confusion with the method of making a proper one from even the best bartenders around the country and the world.
Some things don’t fundamentally change the cocktail, like using sugar syrup instead of fine sugar. But some things do, like using brown sugar or sugar water instead of super fine sugar.
I have spent a lot of time traveling and living in Brasil and have seen Caipirinhas made from Rio to Recife. There are always some subtle differences to each person making one but there are common denominators to making the classic Caipirinha like a Brazilian.
There are always 4 things that go into a Caipirinha in Brasil. Lime, white superfine sugar, un-aged cachaça and ice. It should be shaken. You can use simple syrup but it absolutely must be at least 2-1 rich syrup. Superfine or “Bar” sugar is the best. It acts to macerate the lime and extract the lime oils and juice as well as dissolve easier than regular table sugar. Once you understand the traditional method and base, you can then do riffs and adjustments on this theme.
On a beach it will most likely be made in a makeshift plastic container/shaker and served in a plastic cup.
But in a bar it will more likely be served in a small rocks glass.
The proportions will vary depending on the size of the cup or glass. We will be using an 8 oz rocks glass in the demonstration here.
There are a few important nuances to making this cocktail that I will explain. I am not going to give amounts of the ingredients, it will vary according to glass since that is generally the way you regulate the amounts….and it is a good way to get a feeling for making this without measuring tools…the natural or every day way!
The glass should contain lime pieces to at least half full. An 8 oz rocks glass is perfect for 1 small lime. After that it all flows naturally. If you use a bigger glass, you will need more lime…and sugar.
The table sugar in Brasil is comparable to super fine, or “bar sugar” in the US. It melts and mixes easily. “Bar sugar” is kind of a lost item in bars these days with the prevalent use of simple syrup. Regular table sugar in the US is a bit too coarse for making cocktails, hence the use of bar sugar or simple syrup in cocktails here in the States. It grinds up what you want to muddle too much, and is also not as soluble as the fine sugar. Brown sugar or turbinado is almost non-existent in Brasil and, although it makes a rich Caipirinha and seems rustic, it isn’t used in making a classic one. The use of fine white sugar in this case has one more important effect and that is it finely draws out the juices and oils of the lime in a subtle way that simple syrup does not do quite as well It is also much gentler and doesn’t rip up the limes like coarse sugar does.
Brasilians like things sweet. I like balance, but that is in the eye of the beholder. Adjust sweetness and tartness to your own taste, but be careful not to imbalance the spirits and mixer.
Regular Persian limes in Brasil tend to be smaller than in the US where they sometimes get as big as lemons. That large size can throw off your Caipirinha if you use a giant one in a small glass. So try to purchase medium to small limes. Always adjust to the size of glass. When buying Persian limes, choose limes that are rounder and have smooth skins, with hardly any dimples. The skins of these kinds are thinner so there is more juice, less pith and less bitterness. They are also much easier to juice and muddle. The more elongated limes with dimpled skin tend to have very thick skins and interiors. This means less juice and makes the limes more difficult to juice as well. The extra pith makes them more bitter as well. A few trips to the grocer and you will be able to verify the difference easily.
Notice the two limes pictured above. The top lime is elongated and dimpled. Inside the pith and skin is much more prevalent, making the lime harder and less juicy. The one on the bottom is nearly spherical, and inside the pith and skin is hardly noticeable.
Cachaça is made from sugar cane. It is a style of rum called rhum agricole. The most recognizable rum to most Americans is rhum industriale. Bacardi, Myer’s, Appleton Estate, Mount Gay etc..are all this style. The difference between them is that rhum industriale is distilled from fermented molasses and rum agricole is made from fermented cane juice. The flavors are completely different. In the French Carribbean, rhum agricole is used in a cocktail similar to the Caipirinha, Ti Punch, which is lime juice, cane syrup and rhum agricole.
There are many cachaças in the US market today. Some are old standards from the large industrial distilleries in Brasil like “51”, Pitu, and Velho Barreiro. There are also many home distilled or artisanal cachaças made all over Brasil that may have nothing more than a hand written label. There are also some larger and more artisanal brands of cachaça being produced now such as Novo Fogo and Sagatiba. Finally we have the cachaças made for the US or international markets such as Cabana and Leblon. If you are at a beach or barzinho (bar-zeen-yo) or botequim (bo-che-keen) in Rio, you will almost assuredly get one of the big national brands like “51” in your caiprinha. There are bars in Brasil now where you can get amazing cocktails and caipirinhas made with a huge array of different cachaças; aged, flavored, from different regions and in different styles..etc..
For this classic we will use the old standard. But my aim here is not to stifle creativity or experimentation with aged spirits, other fruits, flavors, different sugars etc….It is just to show the classic form of Caipirinha in Brasil…But Please Be free!
This drink is always made with cracked or chunks of ice. Clear bag ice from the grocery store is perfect. If you are using something like Kold Draft, then you will have to crack it. It is important that the ice melts some with the drink. The drink is muddled and built in the glass, then shaken and poured back into the glass or cup. There are always exceptions when at the beach depending on tools and cups and makeshift shakers. It is important that your glass be FILLED with ice. This brings the temperature down fast, making sure that there isn’t too much melt in your Caipirinha.
Cachaça to fill glass
Hands down I prefer NOVO FOGO
Cut the lime lengthwise into quarters
Cut the center white rib out of each quarter
Cut the pieces into eighths
Add to glass
Add sugar to taste (2 regular spoons)
Muddle until sugar is dissolved and all juice extracted
Fill glass with ice
Fill glass with cachaça