2 oz cachaça
¾ oz simple syrup
half a lime cut into quarters
In a sturdy rocks glass, muddle the limes in the simple syrup. Don’t worry about extracting every drop of juice, just be sure hit each piece at least once.
Fill the glass with ice, preferably use cubes on the smaller side. You may even want to crack one or two of them.
Add the cachaça and briskly stir until everything is well integrated.
If you make a Caipirinha, let me see! Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.
The Caipirinha (KAI-per-EEN-yah) is the national cocktail of Brazil and a refreshing summer classic that’s as simple as they come. It has just three ingredients: lime, sugar and cachaça (a style of rum, more on that below). So basically it is a repurposed Daiquiri. The main difference - other than the cachaça - is muddled lime wedges instead of using fresh lime juice. This extracts the oils in the rind giving the drink a sharper, brighter lime flavor.
There are conflicting options on the best way to prepare a Caipirinha. There two main points of contention are whether to use raw sugar or simple syrup and whether it’s better to shake or stir. My approach has evolved over the years. But today, after much trial and error, I feel confident in saying this recipe makes the absolute best Caipirinha. You can take my word for it, or head over to the commentary section to see my justification for why. But of course, as always, feel free to ignore me and your own thing!
What is Cachaça?
Cachaça (cah-SHA-sah) is Brazil’s take on rum and the country’s national spirit. It is made pure sugar cane juice, as opposed to molasses which is use by the majority of rums. This is also how rhum agricole is made - a French style of rhum made on Martinique and other caribbean islands with some French Colonial roots.
Cane juice rums have pungent, grassy and vegetal flavors which are sometimes broadly described as” funky”. To be completely honest, they can be a little strange at first the first time you try them. But speaking as a convert myself, acclimating your palate them is well worth any effort, and the caipirinha is the perfect vehicle for an introduction.
On that note, the reason muddled lime wedges works particularly well in the Caipirinha is because of the strong flavors stand up to intense lime oils. Whereas muddling lime into, say, a classic Daiquiri would overpower the white rum’s more delicate flavors.
Raw Sugar vs. Simple Syrup
In Brazil, the traditional method is to muddle the limes in a spoonful or two of raw sugar, and that is what many recipes call for and some bartenders swear by. But despite it’s authenticity, I have always opted for simple syrup. It makes a more balanced, consistent, altogether better drink. I will admit there is something tactilely pleasing about the texture raw sugar adds, but it’s not enough to sway me. But if that’s what you’re after, go for it. In that case use about 1 tablespoon.
Shake or Stir
The traditional Brazilian method is to assemble and briefly stir a Caipirinha in the same glass you’ll be drinking from - as I have listed in my recipe above. However, many bars and bartenders opt to shake the cocktail and then pour it into a glass without straining it so the lime wedges still made their way in there. The reason? It contains fresh lime, and as we know, according to the rule of when to shake and when to stir, it should be shaken. I myself, also subscribed to the method for many years, there’s even a video of me demonstrating the drink this way.
But when I decided to challenge the convention, as I’ve lately become fond of doing of late (see the time I shook a Martini), I realized that the Brazilians had it right. The Caipirinha is a rare cocktail that contains citrus that I think is best stirred.
This way it is a better showcase the cachaça, which I think should be the central flavor of the drink. Stirring also makes for a more potent cocktail that lends itself to sipping, making the quality of the cachaça all the more important. So if you ‘ve got a good one, the cocktail is quite elegant. That’s not to say that shaken caipirinhas aren’t perfectly delicious - they are. They’re also easier to drink (maybe too easy). So in the end, as I often say, it’s your call.
This is yet another one of those simple sour style cocktails that you can plug other spirits into and it’ll usually turn out pretty well. A Caipirinha with vodka is a Caipiroska, one of my favorite vodka cocktails. Using Gin is excellent too, that makes it a classic Gimlet.
Or you can add fresh ingredients. Flavored Caipirinhas are very common in Brazil. Many bars will sport a number of infused cachaças for patrons to choose from. You can easily make your own infused cachaça, here's a basic recipe:
1 cup chopped fruit (strawberry and pineapple are good ones)
2 cups cachaça
Combine in a jar or bowl and let sit in refrigerator for 2-3 days. Strain out the fruit and refrigerate.
Or, if you aren't looking to allocate that much booze, you can simple muddle in to fresh fruit or herbs - mint brings it close to a Mojito - or try a strawberry, some peach slices or basil leaves. Or mix and match. Pineapple syrup as the sweetener with some sage leaves are an excellent combo.
Finally, if you get your hands on some high quality fruit purees - Perfect Puree is a great brand - mango, passion fruit and guava are all excellent in this cocktail. Add about ½ an ounce of each to the recipe. Though keep in mind these often are quite tart so you may want to use one or two fewer limes pieces, or add a bit more simple syrup to achieve the right balance.
The Story of the Caipirinha
The distillation of sugar cane has been going on Brazil as far back as the 1500s, which is where cachaça’s story begins. The Caipirinha’s is likely as old, as it was common practice to mixing spirits with something to soften it harsher edges, and it would have been rough and ready back then for sure. Common choices for the softeners likely would have been lime and sugar, as it was throughout the cane distilling region of the Southern America’s and Carribeean, and which laid the foundation for drinks like the Daiquiris, Mojito and ‘Ti Punch.
The roots of the Caipirinha’s past begin to firm up in 1800s São Paulo where started gathering a following as a remedy, broadly prescribed for a number of aliments and illnesses, as booze often was back then. Initially the drink was strictly a lower class. The name is derived from the word “caipira” which is typically used as derogative term for bush cutter (aka sugar cane stalk cutter).
So calling a drink a Caipirinha was essentially branding it as inferior country bumpkin swill. But, just as they did in the United States with that hillbilly corn whiskey (bourbon), the Brazilian upper crust warmed up to the Caipirinha.
It was enjoyed regionally almost exclusively until 1970s when tourism brought it beyond Brazil’s borders and the cocktail took on a life of it’s own. Today riding the wave of the cocktail craze and the rise in artisanal cachaça, the Caipirinha can count itself amongst the world’s most premier cocktails.