April 14, 2010
I have yet to come across a cocktail that epitomizes the adjective rustic like the Caipirinha does. Derived from the Brazilian Portuguese word caipira (meaning “country people”), even the drink’s name references its rustic nature. Some refer to the Caipirinha as the cousin of the Mojito. My liquor-warped brain sees it slightly differently. To me the Caipirinha is like a Mojito that went on a camping trip, lost the minty breath and bubbly attitude, answered the call of the wild and never returned to the city.
A gander at the ingredient list and required tools—lime, sugar, ice, firewater, a stick for muddling and stirring, and a drinking receptacle—is revelatory: limes that can’t be bothered with a hand squeezer so they’re just smashed with a stick; sugar that can’t be bothered to be turned into syrup so it’s thrown in and smashed along with the limes; ice thrown in that had been hammered with the same tool used to beat the sugar and limes into submission; and a pour of Brazil’s national spirit, cachaca, all built and stirred in the same glass because the person making it can’t be bothered with a shaker or any other such implement that city folk trouble themselves with. And as for the garnish, well, I think you know the answer to that.
The very nature of the drink indicates its recipe was a local secret long before it ever graced the pages of a cocktail book. The drink’s geographical origin, however, is not a secret at all. The Caipirinha is often referred as Brazil’s national drink, and Brazil was surely its birthplace, for its main ingredient cachaca (a sugarcane spirit which is essentially Brazil’s version of rum) was not widely exported until relatively recently.
The Caipirinha’s origins make pinpointing its precise date of creation a near-impossible task, though we can safely assume it was some time after ice became commonly available. To dig deeper than that however would display a sense of diligence that controverts everything the Caipirinha represents.
2 oz Cachaca
1 ½ -2 barspoons sugar (or ¾ -1 oz simple syrup if you’re the fancy pants type)
Half a lime, quartered
Crushed or cracked ice
Tools: muddler (we are always adapting to modern times here)
Glass: Old Fashioned glass, but really any receptacle that holds liquid will do
Muddle the limes with the sugar (or simple syrup) in a glass. Add the cachaca and stir to dissolve remaining sugar granules. Add the ice, give it another healthy stir, and enjoy.
An alternative and more modern way of making the Caipirinha is to build the drink as above in a shaker, then shake and pour everything into a glass without straining. Some prefer this method because it produces a more uniformly flavored drink. I go either way depending on how lazy I feel.
Besides simplicity, the Caipirinha is also an excellent study in form following function. Using undissolved sugar instead of syrup—as Caipirinha purists are wont—may be more than just a matter of laziness. When muddling, the sugar granules add friction, thereby acting as an abrasive agent against the skin of the limes, helping release more of their essential oil. This leads to a more full-flavored Caipirinha than if you were just squeezing in lime juice, since we’re getting more than just the juice.
The Caipirinha is as refreshing as it is simple, and its wow factor belies its simplicity. Not only is it on my short list of crowd pleasing summer drinks, but it’s also very deserving of its place on the exclusive list of “Essential Cocktails.”
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.