Other than being home to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil-at-large, is famous for many things, but its ability to party tops the list. And what’s a party without a good cocktail? In order to indulge in this year’s Olympic games in true Brazilian fashion, imbibing the national cocktail of Brazil, the caipirinha, is a basic requisite.
The origin of this beverage is a little unusual as far as cocktails go. According to legend, an early (and more medicinal) version of this particular mix actually began in Sao Paulo rather than Rio in the early 1900s to treat patients infected with Spanish Influenza. I’m no doctor, but I can’t imagine liquor drinks are the way to go in order to get over a deadly infectious disease.
The spirit used to make the caipirinha is actually not rum, a common mistake in the US, but one called cachaca. Similar to rum, it is derived from sugarcane. If you didn’t realize that cachaca and rum were separate entities, you aren’t alone— the US only acknowledged this liquor as being an expressly different product of Brazil in 2012 as part of a trade agreement in which Brazil also accredited Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey as discreet commodities of the United States. The operative difference between the cachaca and rum is that rum is generally made from molasses, the consequence of boiling and processing sugar cane juice. Cachaca, on the other hand, is directly made from pure sugar cane juice. The result is a very distinct flavor that is unique to cachaca and totally separates this drink from all of the other lime + liquor beverages that you could order.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Brazil to witness the Olympic games in person, your visit would be amiss without trying a caipirinha from at least one (if not all) of the below locations in order to get in true Brazilian spirits. Other than the classic lime, liquor, and sugar concoction, Brazilian bars offer a wide range of options and deviations from the classic cocktail. Diversity is the name of Rio’s bar game, and you can truly find whatever you are looking for, from dive bar to party spot to something a little more gourmet. Whether you are looking for a great view, a place to start your party, or somewhere to see and be seen, you can find somewhere memorable to enjoy Brazil’s national cocktail. Saúde!
Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro
R. Aprazível, 62 – Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro
If sipping cocktails while enjoying a buenavista is your thing, do not miss this spot. Its name means “pleasant” in Portuguese, and your experience here will certainly live up to the name. Perched on a cliff, the views of the city are breathtaking. Try the “caipibella”—it’s their gorgeous variation on the caipirinha and it’s made with star fruit, passion fruit, rosemary, and ginger sugar. This establishment also gets bonus points for its commitment to environmentally sustainable practices.
Rio de Janeiro
R. Vinícius de Moraes, 75 – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
Located in the cool and vibrant Ipanema district, this is a great location to begin your night out. While the downstairs section of this joint is your more standard restaurant/ bar combo, if your caipirinha sampling has you lit, simply head upstairs to enjoy the nightclub scene. Don’t miss the live-band karaoke experience if you’re feeling bold.
Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
Rua Conde de Irajá, 109 – Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
Located in the up-and-coming Botafogo neighborhood, this locale is the place to go if you want a chic experience, with a bar that features complex and artful takes on the traditional caipirinha. Using unexpected and nontraditional ingredients like basil, hot peppers, and mint with high-quality cachaca, their take on the cocktail will cause your appreciation and understanding of the caipirinha to reach a totally new level (not to mention, your drink will definitely be insta-worthy).
Humaitá, Rio de Janeiro
R. Cap. Salomão, 69 – Humaitá, Rio de Janeiro
The Meza Bar is where the cool kids all go, making this spot great if you want to be a part of Rio’s vibrant social scene. The drinks, food, and service are all fantastic here, combining to produce an exceptional experience. As far as caipirinhas go, not only do they have a list of creative combinations of flavor adaptations from the original, you can also find vodka and non-alcoholic versions if cachaca isn’t your spirit of choice.
Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro
Av. do Pepê, 500 – Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro
If you know anything about the South American cocktail scene, you’ve definitely heard of Tato Giovannoni, who is a legend among mixologists and founder of this bar. Hailing from Argentina, his bar Florería Atlántico is considered to be one of the top bars in Latin America. His stakeout in Rio lives up to the standard he set in Argentina. Set on the beach (hello, gorgeous views!), it’s literally a shack with picnic tables in the sand that has a quaint and bohemian vibe to it and is perfect for daytime or after-hours libations.
Leblon, Rio de Janeiro
Rua Conde Bernadotte, 26- Leblon, Rio de Janeiro
This place is not just a watering hole, but rather more of an ode to Brazilian culture and its cuisine. When you enter, you will immediately notice the gigantic and artful Brazilian flag decorating the ceiling. This is the treatment and respect awarded to Brazil’s national liquor here. The Academia prides itself on a nearly academic, and certainly revered, approach to cachaca drinks. As a bonus (and to prove this point), there is a second location in Barra da Tijuca that houses Ulisses Vasconcelo’s 2,000-plus collection of cachaca bottles.