Remember when it was hard to get a good Caipirinha?
According to many drink aficionados it still is, which is odd for a three-ingredient beverage — muddled lime, sugar or simple syrup and cachaça. As International Cachaça Day approaches (June 12), bartenders and consumers alike should be praising a quality-made Caipirinha. Instead, many bartenders are smashing the bitter bejesus out of the lime instead of gently extracting flavors, and some larger operations craft the refresher with pre-made mixes that can, when mishandled, result in toxically sweet concoctions.
But the same could be said about many drinks; what’s interesting about the Caipirinha craze is the simultaneous explosion of interest in cachaça (pronounced ka-SHA-suh), the Brazilian sugar cane spirit at the base of the drink. Back to that in a minute.
Tang and Bite
Caipirinhas, as simple as they seem, are labor-intensive — muddling many limes during a rush can back a bar up quickly. In addition, sourcing is inconsistent. Key or Mexican limes are preferable to the thick- and slightly bitter- skinned Persian limes most bars use, but they are smaller, tough to find and yield less juice.
A good Caipirinha requires about a half a juicy, think-skinned lime per serving, lightly muddled with sugar or syrup until it releases some essential oils as well as juice. Add ice and two ounces of cachaça per drink and shake very hard. The lime’s tang and slight bite mix with the caney cachaça and sugar to make an aromatic, flavorful yet adult drink. It should be sippable but not quaffable — between a Gimlet and spiked lemonade.
Resist serving up; this drink needs the slow melt that mellows, much like a Mint Julep. Lately, operators such as the 20-plus unit Bahama Breeze chain, part of Orlando-Fla.-based Darden Restaurants, have started making Caipirinhas with guapo, fresh sugar cane juice squeezed per order.
Operators looking for an edge are increasing their cachaça and Caipirinha load — not easy, as few of the new brands are available nationally. The Sunset Lounge at the Mondrian Hotel in Miami Beach offers nearly 50 cachaças and a selection of Caipirinhas infused with flavors such as lychee-elderflower and peach-lemongrass. Cantina in San Francisco carries at least four cachaças — P51 and Weber for their Caipirinha ($8 per cocktail, $24 per pitcher) and Blackberry and Cabernet Caipirinha, ($9 and $28) as well as Sagatiba and Cabana. Cuba Libre in Atlantic City carries Leblon and Batuque, while its Philadelphia branch stocks Velho Barreiro and Moleca.
The most popular spirit in Brazil, cachaça is a rum with a difference. Like rhum agricole, it’s made from sugar cane rather than molasses. Long considered a cheap, industrial spirit, cachaça had little presence in the United States until a few years ago, when interest in Latin cocktails exploded and spirit entrepreneurs who had been targeting the United Kingdom turned to North America.
Cachaça is more than 400 years old, and Brazil produces a billion liters a year through more than 4,000 brands, mostly selling for about $1 per bottle. In the United States, brands like Pitu, Ypioca and P51, long available, have been joined most notably by Leblon, Agua Luca, Sagatiba, Beleza Pura, Cabana, Cuca Fresca, Boca Loca and others; even single barrel and aged varieties are now available.
When buying premium cachaça, look for aromas of fresh sugarcane, cucumber, white flowers, cucumber and sharp citrus. Some cachaças get a dose of sugar after distillation, and many of those made expressly for the states have changed recipes over the years. So, as the category grows, be attentive to changes as spirit entrepreneurs look to build more North American fans — and maybe help us get a consistently good Caipirinha. NCB
Frequently writing and consulting about spirits, Jack Robertiello also judges at events including the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the International Rum Fest and Spirits of Mexico.
For a traditional Caipirinha, try out the following recipe from Boca Loca:
1 ½ ounces Boca Loca Cachaça
2 teaspoons sugar
Clean and cut a lime into eight wedges. Place the lime and sugar into your glass and mash the ingredients together. Add ice equal to your glass then add the Boca Loca. Keep stirring with your paddle stirrer to keep the sugar mixed well.
Or, to enjoy cachaça in a different kind of cocktail, check out Boco Loco’s recipe for the Boca Royale.
1 whole strawberry
2 ounces Boca Loca Cachaça
½ ounce brown sugar syrup
½ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce sparkling wine
Muddle strawberry into shaker. Add Boca Loca and the next two ingredients and shake vigorously with ice. Strain liquid into highball glass, adding sparkling wine while pouring. Garnish with lemon and serve.
For more Cachaça recipes, visit www.drinkbocaloca.com.