If you’re like me and missed the Rio Carnival the other week, we can still get a taste of the festivities by mixing up the popular Caipirinha cocktail, which is often tipped back at the fete.
It’s made with Brazil’s national spirit, cachaça [kah-SHAH-sah], which is a close relative of rum made from freshly-pressed sugarcane rather than from molasses, a by-product of the sugar processing industry (which rum is made from). Cachaça dates back to the 17th century in Brazil, where it’s as much a part of the culture as tequila is in Mexico.
The Caipirinha (pronounced Ki-pee-REEN-yah) gets its name from when Europeans first arrived in Brazil and began cutting down the Amazon forest to make settlements. The local indigenous people referred to the newcomers with the contemptuous term caipira— “weed cutter.” The Portuguese adopted the term and modified it to create the word for “country bumpkin” or “hillbilly”—caipirinha. The use of this word for the cocktail reflects its simple, rustic origins.
Fresh lime is the key to a properly made Caipirinha, but don’t over-muddle: crush the lime wedges just enough to release the juice without crushing the bitter white pith. The only other ingredients apart from cachaça, are sugar, added to taste, and ice.
Sit back, sip, and listen to “The Girl from Ipanema” as you reflect on a much more laid-back experience here. Or, if you wish to don something sparkly and dance the samba to recreate elements of the over-the-top bash, no one will be the wiser. Saúde!
1 fresh lime (key limes, if available)
2 ounces cachaça
2 teaspoons sugar (more or less, to taste)
1 scoop crushed ice
Cut the lime into several wedges and place in a short, wide-mouthed cocktail glass, pulp side up. Sprinkle with sugar and use a wooden spoon or muddler to crush them gently, releasing the juice but avoiding the bitter pith and skin. Add the cachaça and top the glass with ice. Stir vigorously. Serve with a straw and a lime wedge garnish.