In an age when sharp-looking cocktails and fussy garnishes are all the rage, the Caipirinha is the ugly duckling. The recipe is simple and requires little in the way of prep: muddle some limes with sugar, add cachaça and ice, shake like hell, dump the whole mess into a glass. Sweet, tart, and thoroughly refreshing, the Caipirinha proves real beauty is on the inside.
Learning more about the Caipirinha requires a trip down South America way to Brazil for a quick primer on cachaça, the cocktail’s base spirit. Cachaça is in the rum family; however, where most rums are produced from molasses, cachaça is derived from fermented sugar cane juice. The un-aged, less-expensive variety is white (clear). Aged varieties, which are gold in color and pricier, can be aged up to 15 years in wooden barrels.
Historians date early cachaça production to sometime in the early to mid 16th century when slaves working on sugar plantations began collecting and fermenting the foam that ran off the top of the boiling sugarcane cauldrons. Soon, Brazilian elites discovered the beverage, turning it into one of the country’s most popular spirits.
The Caipirinha doesn’t show up until around the end of World War I, where it was allegedly originally conceived as a remedy for the Spanish Flu in the state of São Paulo. This early preparation mixed cachaça with green lemon, honey and garlic. Eventually, someone had the good sense to drop the garlic and honey, add some ice and sugar, and start serving the improved recipe during happy hour.
The name Caipirinha means “little peasant girl” in Portuguese, a nod to the cocktail’s rural roots. By 1922, the cocktail had caught on with Brazil’s cosmopolitan set, who selected it as the country’s national drink in commemoration of an international art event. However, it wasn’t until 2003 that the Brazilian government officially recognized the Caipirinha as the country’s official cocktail.
2 oz. cachaça
1/2 fresh lime, cut into quarters
2 tsp sugar
Directions: Muddle the limes and sugar in a shaker. Add cachaça and ice. Shake hard and pour unstrained into a tumbler.