The Pride of Brazil: Cachaça and the Caipirinha
Photo: Sun Sentinel / Getty.
Cachaça (pronounced kah-SHA-sah) is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. It’s the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil with the caipirinha being the most famous cocktail. “Cachaça is kind of like ‘farm-to-table fresh rum.’ Unlike rum, which is made from Molasses, Cachaça is made from raw cane juice,” says Leblon Cachaça founder Steve Luttmann.
It’s the native spirit of Brazil, distilled from sugarcane juice instead of molasses, with a history dating back five hundred years. “They are often aged in rare Brazilian woods like amburana,” says Avuá Cachaça co-founder Nate Whitehouse. “It is also the fifth most consumed spirit in the word.”
In Brazil, cachaça is consumed year-round. “Perhaps it’s partly related to the tropical climate and access to fresh citrus and produce for much of the year. Around the world people have a history of drinking or consuming what’s around them,” says Novo Fogo Cachaça founder and CEO Dragos Axinte.
Like many spirits local to a specific area, cachaça was largely unavailable here until very recently when a few brands started to pop up. “In the US, we’re quite far from Brazil and that access to such incredible quality produce year-round,” says Axinte.
We shouldn’t have to wait for the Olympics in Brazil to try their national spirit. Cachaça is perfect for spring cocktails that tend to lean towards fresh, bright flavors. “Cachaça, whether it’s aged or not, always pairs well with fresh fruit.” It plays very well in refreshing fruity drinks, from the classic Caipirinha to a simple mixed drink with your favorite fruit juice. “It’s hot in Brazil, so there’s a reason why this is their #1 spirit,” says Luttmann. “It goes great with any fruit juice, especially citrus and berries. I adore it with Tonic and a twist of lime.”
The Caipirinha Cocktail
The Caipirinha became popular in the 1950’s in Rio de Janeiro. “The name means ‘little country girl,’ since Cachaça came from the ‘interior’ of the country,” says Luttmann.
The Caipirinha is essentially a cocktail with muddled lime, sugar, and ice. “It tastes similar to a Margarita, made like a Mojito and what’s fun is you can make a Caipirinha with almost any fruit, from strawberries and tangerines to pineapple and mint.”
Even though there are stories claiming the drink was invented in the 1950s, there are other stories that trace the drink back decades earlier. “The caipirinha is Brazil’s national drink,” says Axinte. “Although the real origins of caipirinha are unknown, there’s an account that it was first created around 1918 in the state of São Paulo.” At that time, the popular recipe was made with lime, garlic and honey and was indicated for patients with the Spanish flu. “In fact, it’s still being used as a remedy for the common cold in some regions of Brazil.”
In past generations, it was common all over the world to attempt to ward off illness with liquor. You might be aware of another cocktail originally created for its medicinal qualities: the hot toddy. “As it’s told in this story relating to the caipirinha there was a pivotal moment where someone swapped out the garlic for and added a few tablespoons sugar to reduce the acidity of lime.”
The caipirinha is enjoyed in restaurants, bars, and households throughout Brazil and will be extremely visible during this summer’s Olympics. “Still yet somewhat unknown outside of Brazil, the caipirinha has become more popular and more widely available in the US in recent years,” says Axinte.
Novo Fogo even sells an actual Caipirinha Kit. “For their first foray into cachaça, many consumers want to try a caipirinha,” says Axinte. The contents of this kit include a 750ml bottle of Silver cachaça, a muddler, and two jars for making (and shaking) the cocktail. “It makes for a fun gift or the perfect accompaniment to a picnic. Just bring fresh limes, ice, and sugar and you’re all set to enjoy the flavors of Brazil.”
The caipirinha is the classic Brazilian cocktail for a reason. It’s simple and refreshing with just the right amount of booze to sweet to sour ratio. “It was a cocktail developed during a cholera epidemic off the coast on Brazil when they needed to add cachaça to make the water healthy, added lime and sugar to make it tasty, and decided they liked to drink it all the time,” says Whitehouse.
The classic caipirinha is at once a fairly concentrated drink but is tremendously refreshing. It’s also easily adaptable for fans of different flavors and ingredients. “Capifrutas, a spin on the caipirinha, is essentially any caipirinha where the traditional lime is substituted or added to another fruit; blueberries, papaya, oranges, passion fruit, kiwis, you name it – it works,” says Axinte. He adds, “As they say, ‘what grows together, goes together.’ Tropical, sea salt, and fruity notes exist in our cachaças as a result of where the cane is grown.” This lends consumers the opportunity to try his and other cachaças with a wide variety of fruits that he sees hitting his Farmer’s Markets as the days begin to get warmer throughout the United States.
There’s more to cachaça than the caipirinha though. There’s also the Batida (with lemon juice, grenadine, pineapple juice and club soda) and the Rabo de Gallo (with vermouth and cynar) to name a few. It’s a fantastic substitute for rye in a Sazerac as well as for vodka in a Moscow Mule, which Axinte lovingly calls the Brazilian Buck.So, if you are going to discover this delicious Brazilian spirit this spring, start with the caipirinha and then mix it with more, interesting flavors. “Go from there to other simple drinks – mix it with your favorite mixer, try it in one of your favorite cocktails,” says Whitehouse. “Experiment with it using some fresh ingredients that are in-season. Get to know Cachaça – like a Brazilian, it’s very friendly with whatever you mix with it.”
So, if you are going to discover this delicious Brazilian spirit this spring, start with the caipirinha and then mix it with more, interesting flavors. “Go from there to other simple drinks – mix it with your favorite mixer, try it in one of your favorite cocktails,” says Whitehouse. “Experiment with it using some fresh ingredients that are in-season. Get to know Cachaça – like a Brazilian, it’s very friendly with whatever you mix with it.”