When you get a little bored of the classics and feel the urge for a refreshing and unusual cocktail, there are few better bets than the Caipirinha to satisfy your needs. The Caipirinha (pronounced kay-pih-rin-ya) is Brazil's national cocktail and is a rustic yet potent combination of Cachaça, sugar and fresh lime. Cachaça is Brazil's everyday spirit of choice. Like rum, it is made from sugar cane. However, Cachaça is made from cane juice whereas rum is distilled from molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process.
The International Bartender Association has labeled the Caipirinha one of the 50 greatest drinks of all time. It gained its popularity in the 1950s and 60s on the beaches of Rio and Sao Paulo during the days of Jobim and Bossa Nova. To the non-Brazilian, the Caipirinha has similarities to its muddled cousin the Mojito and the lime-based Margarita. Outside of Brazil, particularly in the United States, the availability of Cachaça can be limited, so relatively few bars have served the drink. Now that higher quality brands of Cachaça are available outside of Brazil, the popularity and prevalence of the Caipirinha in the US have increased.
The word "Caipirinha" is a version of the word "caipira", which refers to someone from the countryside, being an equivalent of the American English “hillbilly” or even “redneck” ! There is an old saying in Brazil: “quanto pior a cachaça, melhor a caipirinha” or “the worse the Cachaça, the better the Caipirinha” (within reason of course). Consequently, it’s generally better to use clear colored (white), non-aged Cachaça rather than a heavier aged Cachaça. Pitú, 51 or Ypioca are all brands that are ideal for making a great Caipirinha.
A Caipirinha must also be made with fresh lime to achieve an 'authentic' taste. In Brazil, the very best Caipirinhas are made with limões gallegos, what in the US are called key limes.
To make the perfect Caipirinha, wash one whole key lime and roll it on a flat surface to loosen the juices. Cut the lime into eight pieces and place them in the bottom of a rocks or old fashioned glass. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) of extra fine white sugar. Too much sugar, and the drink becomes flabby, not enough and the lime will overpower the drink. When everything is in balance, the cocktail shines. Do not be tempted to use simple syrup as the abrasive quality of granulated sugar actually helps to extract extra flavor from the lime during the muddling process. Mash the pieces with a pestle or muddler to release the juices and citrus oils. (Some bottles of cachaça even come with a special wooden muddler). Add 3 measures of decent white Cachaça and stir to mix. Add plenty of fresh cracked ice and stir again. Serve with a garnish of lime peel or fresh mint sprig.
Alternative – try using a different citrus fruit like pink grapefruit or blood orange instead of the lime. When using sweeter fruits, make sure to use less sugar to keep the drink balanced.