Great cocktails are often built with a small set of simple ingredients. Just rum, sugar, and limes will give you a classic Daiquiri. If you change the base from rum to cachaça, a liquor primarily made with sugarcane, then you have a Caipirinha, arguably the national drink of Brazil.
A Caipirinha is as simple to make as the short ingredient list suggests. However, it’s taste is more complex than you would imagine. Are you looking for a refreshing cocktail to relax away the summer heat? You’ve found your match!
What's a Caipirinha?
A Caipirinha (pronounced kai-pee-reen-ya) is a cocktail made with cachaça (pronounced kuh-shah-suh), a Brazilian liquor made from fermented sugarcane, sugar, and limes. This cocktail is refreshingly sweet, tart, and the cachaça adds somewhat grassy and herbaceous flavor notes.
There are some theories out there about how the Caipirinha was created. One story suggests it was concocted for its medicinal properties. Another claims that it was simply a drink enjoyed by locals for parties. The truth is, there isn’t a clear origin story, but sometimes the best drinks come from hazy origins.
So, What’s Cachaça?
Brazil wants you to know that cachaça is NOT rum, as a lot of folks assume. While rum is made from molasses, the by-product of sugar production, cachaça is made from the juice of sugarcane.
And while rhum agricole is also made from the juice of sugarcane, these two liquors differ as the alcohol by volume (ABV) of cachaça is much lower at 38 to 48 percent, while rhum agricole is upwards of 70 percent.
Cachaça must be made from Brazilian sugarcane. In general, the flavor of the liquor is floral, spicy, and grassy, but every brand will have its unique flavor profile. Some may be “funkier” while others will taste more like the wood they are aged in.
It’s an expression of both Brazilian sugarcane production and distinct regional flavors—the flavor of cachaça varies depending on what part of the country it was grown (the terroir), distillation methods, and aging techniques.
In Brazil there are over 3,000 cachaça distilleries. However, only a fraction of those bottles are offered here in the United States. In 2013, the U.S. officially recognized cachaça as its own category of liquor and not simply another rum. We’ve seen a surge of different cachaça brands being imported.
Cachaça can be found in most liquor stores, and if you don’t see it on the shelves where you live, ask to see if they can special order some for you!
How to Make Caipirinha
The order of how you make the caipirinha is important. Start by muddling the sugar and quartered limes. The granulated sugar will grind against the lime peels, releasing the oils, and the lime juice that is expelled will help the sugar dissolve.
Then, add some crushed ice on top. Pour in the cachaça last. The crushed ice will melt when the cachaça is poured over it, diluting the drink properly. This is important since this cocktail is not shaken.
Tips and Tricks for Making Caipirinha
Ingredients and technique matter when making a simple cocktail. Here’s a few tips and tricks to making your Caipirinha taste great.
- Many recipes will tell you to use fine or even powdered sugar. Don’t. You’re grinding the lime peels with the sugar, and you need some abrasion to release the oils. Granulated sugar will do that. Anything finer will dissolve before you even start muddling the limes.
- Muddling can mean many things to many people so let’s talk about that here for a second. The purpose of muddling is to grind the sugar with the lime juice and oils from its peel. You’re lightly crushing the sugar with quartered limes, maybe giving it all a stir as you go. You do not want to mangle the lime quarters to shreds—at that point you’ve gone too far.
- The flavor of a Caipirinha depends on the brand of cachaça you use. If the opportunity arises to taste a few, it could help you find the right one for you. I use Leblon, a relatively grassy and funky tasting cachaça that can benefit with a little more sugar to balance it out. Novo Fogo is fruitier and sweeter, so you can pull back on the sugar a little.
- Consider the lime. Look for a plump juicy one that will add some liquid to your cocktail. Forgo anything that looks dry and withered. You may need to add more or less sugar depending on how tart or sweet the limes are. Give it a little taste before making the cocktail.
What to Serve Caipirinha In
Since you need to have a bit of a heavy hand while making this to muddle the limes, a heavy-bottomed glass is ideal. I use a double rocks glass as it has some room to maneuver in and doesn’t feel crowded with the limes and ice.
More Puckery Cocktails to Try
- 1 whole lime
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- Crushed ice for serving
- 2 1/2 ounces cachaça
Quarter the lime:
Slice the ends off the lime. Quarter the lime lengthwise.
Muddle the lime and sugar:
Place the quartered lime in a double rocks glass and sprinkle in the sugar. Muddle the limes and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the limes have been fully released their juices.
Add ice and cachaça:
Fill the glass with crushed ice and pour the cachaça over the ice. Gently stir to combine and serve.