Carioca Kitchen: The Caipirinha
It’s celebration time at Frescobol Carioca, with the launch of a summer pop-up shop at our Notting Hill boutique. With the party planning in full swing, and caipirinhas programmed as our signature cocktail, the office erupted in disputes over the right way to make one, as well as our favourite variations on the classic flavours.
The perfect caipirinha starts with the perfect cachaça, and if the caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil (it is), cachaça is the national spirit. Internationally, there’s now plenty of choice when it comes to what is unquestionably the drink’s star ingredient. Large supermarket chains tend to carry at least one variety, and speciality liquor shops have cottoned on to the growing connoisseur market. Made from fermented and distilled sugar cane juice, the liquor was first invented in the early 16th century according to the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça (yes, this exists). Today, while there are many commercial brands that produce column-distilled white cachaça industrially, there is also a burgeoning scene for pot-stilled cachaça, aged in native-wood barrels to produce a smoother spirit, with a more complex flavour profile.
So which makes for the better caipirinha? We’re a bit torn. Unaged cachaça is most commonly used, as the kick of lime and sugar is a forgiving partnership for a less complex liquor. The aged cachaça ouro, though usually sipped straight, adds an interesting dimension to the cocktail. It’s certainly a novelty to try, but it feels like a waste to mask subtle developing flavours with a citrus-sweet blast. We all agree that a proper caipirinha means unaged cachaça. The powerful combination of sugar and lime is young and fresh and raw, and almost demands a base that is a little rough around the edges.
For a cocktail with such a short ingredient list, each one seems a source of contention. Moving onto the sugar, there are those who swear by the unrefined, more flavourful options, while others prefer the solubility and pure sweetness of standard white. I like the hint of caramel that comes from well-muddled Demerara, as well as the occasional crunch from an undissolved crystal, but many people compromise with soft golden sugar. This one is up to you.
The citrus component in Brazil is usually the Tahiti lime, the most common type, but any variety will work in the cocktail to provide the acidic hit. Just avoid using lemons. If nothing else, it won’t look right. The ice should be in cubes, or very roughly broken into pebbles. No shaved or crushed ice, this isn’t an alcoholic slush puppy or, god forbid, a daiquiri.
Here we present the perfect caipirinha recipe, but if making a cocktail sounds a little too much like DIY for you, check out our favourite caipirinha bars below.
Frescobol Carioca’s Caipirinha
1 Tahiti lime
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 oz. cachaça (3 if you’re feeling frisky)
For decoration (optional):
1 slice of Tahiti lime
Method of preparation:
Cut off the lime tips and chop in half
Remove the core, it gives the caipirinha an unpleasant bitter taste
Cut into smaller chunks
Put the lime and sugar into a glass and muddle well, until the sugar is dissolved
Add ice and top up with the cachaça
Decorate with a slice of lime or a piece of sugar cane as a swizzle stick.
The Best Caipirinha in…
Rio de Janeiro: Academia da Cachaça has two locations: the original in Leblon and an outpost in Barra da Tijuca. The menu has a heavy focus on the sugar cane liquor, with almost a hundred varieties available for tasting, perfect if you wanted to explore this traditional drink a little more. Naturally, they’ve put a lot of thought into their caipirinha, and it’s one of the best in the city. Try the in-season special for the freshest, most luscious fruit muddled with sugar and your choice of cachaça.
London: We’re pretty sure Sushi Samba’s offering was the best caipirinha we tasted in London, though we may have been influenced by the stunning views. The bar/restaurant is located on the 39th floor of 110 Bishopsgate and offers a panorama of the city. Technically, their drink is a “kaffirinha”, with the addition of lime leaves to the original recipe. We’ll allow this minor transgression.
New York: Oficina Latina presents the traditional caipirinha alongside some more interesting flavour combinations. Try the banana-ginger-jalapeño offering if you want something original, though please note it tastes nothing like the traditional recipe. If, by now, you’re more of a cachaça aficionado, then head to Casa on Beford street. Alongside a range of Brazilian home-cooking dishes, they’ve got a whole cachaça menu, so you can choose exactly what goes into your caipirinha.
Paris: La Famille bar offers an experimental, molecular approach to the cocktail. It’s not a traditional caipirinha, but there’s something to be said for the theatre of a drink prepared with liquid nitrogen and arriving garnished with sweets or chocolates. With just a handful of tables, and very discreet, very French service, this bar is a hidden gem in Montmartre, and a world away from the stereotypical Amélie-type places packed with tourists.
The Ultimate Caipirinha Experience
Now that you’ve boned up on your caipirinha history, experimented with creating your own, and tried the best your city has to offer, you’ve probably satisfied your craving. No? Good. If you really want to complete your education, consider a trip to Paraty, a town so entwined with the history of cachaça that its name was once a synonym for the drink. Originally a Portuguese colonial settlement, the town fell into decline when railroads hit the big time, as the topography didn’t allow for easy development. Cachaça production kept ticking over and today it’s resulted in a pot-still artisanal industry producing the best cachaça in the world, with its own protected geographical indication. Transport links are slightly better in modern times, but the town feels pleasantly secluded and exclusive. Its long isolation meant the preservation of its 250-year old architecture, lush green forest, and cultural mix of Portuguese colonials and native Guianás. No cars are allowed in the protected historic town centre, which is quite reassuring when you’re planning to take a lot of liquor tasting tours.
If you’re feeling inspired, but searching for a way to justify all this sampling, you might want to note that the caipirinha is based on a traditional remedy for the Spanish influenza. It doesn’t matter that the original featured raw garlic in copious amounts. It’s basically a tonic. You’re doing this for your health. Saúde!