I’ve been building this week. It’s kind of a strange throwback to a former life, but I am enjoying it. The kid has been working by my side and I have loved that. Teaching him how to use various tools, solve construction problems on paper before we start using up lumber, why we use different techniques, fasteners and materials, you know, the basics. In addition to getting to work with the boy, I have really enjoyed the pure simplicity of construction. Sure, there are issues to work out and problems to solve, but they are fairly straightforward. If I make a mistake here, no one gets sued or gets sick or loses their job, we just fix it. So, with an eye toward the joys of a simpler existence and a job well done, won’t you join me now as we stand and make, the classic Caipirinha.
When it comes to cocktails it does not get much simpler than this Brazilian classic. Three ingredients and the truth, as they say. This drink originates in the Piracicaba region near SÄo Paulo in the 1800’s. We bounced around that area a bit about a decade ago and I can attest that it is incredibly beautiful, mostly rural and Caipirinhas are everywhere. Even though this cocktail began as a sort of tonic in the countryside using the locally made aguardente de cana, it quickly moved to the cities and became the national drink of Brazil. Oddly enough, I was first introduced to this elixir by a friend from Basel, who always seems to have limes, sugar and Cachaca at hand. Though we live thousands of miles apart, I always look forward to enjoying this classic with Andreas behind the bar. While this drink is super simple on paper, there is an art to it and he has this one mastered.
As opposed to making a pitcher, I prefer to build mine one at a time in the glass. To set the mood, crank up the Tom Jobim original “Garota de Ipanema” and see if you can keep up in Portuguese. The most important step in getting this drink right is muddling the limes and sugar. Take a lime and cut off the ends before slicing it in half the long way. We are going to make wedges, but first, go ahead and make a v-shaped notch to remove that bitter white string that goes down the middle. I think it is called the columella, but bitter white string works. With that removed, go ahead and slice half of the lime into 4 wedges, then cut those in half. Grab a double rocks glass and toss your lime pieces before topping with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Some folks suggest using superfine sugar, but I like the simplicity of just grabbing sugar off the shelf. Plus, I always feel like it does a better job of helping to grind the oils out of the limes. Next step is to muddle the heck out of this. Most of the time you take it easy while muddling, not wanting to bring out the bitter flavors, but not in the Caipirinha. Feel free to work out any frustrations you might feel during this stage, just smash hell out of it till all that sugar is incorporated. Toss in 2 ounces of cachaca, I chose Pirassununga Cachaça 51, and stir it up. Top with crushed ice and give it another stir before popping in a couple of lime wheels for garnish.
This drink is simply amazing. It always is. The levels of complexity you get from these three simple ingredients is incredible. Like, I said it is all about the muddling and releasing those flavors from the lime peel so they can go play with the sugar and sugar cane spirit. Some say, it is all in the wrist but I am a firm believer in also having the correct mindset and holding your mouth right. Cachaca is, essentially, a Brazilian light rum, but like the rhums from Martinique and unlike most other Caribbean rums, it is made with fresh sugarcane juice instead of molasses. That fresh sugarcane juice means you end up getting a lot of nice green vegetal flavors in there that just continue to open up as the drink dilutes. It’s like a Mojito, only cleaner, if that makes sense. So very easy and so very good.
This drink is remarkably simple and that is a huge part of it’s charm. You can stop into almost any roadside bodega in Brazil and grab the ingredients for this one off the shelf. Now that cachaca is easily accessible in the US, once you have your bottle, you can swing by any grocery and most convenience stores and walk out with everything you need to keep all your guests happy. The biggest thing about this recipe is to not be tied to it. If you think it is too sweet, cut back on the sugar, too dry, toss in an extra teaspoon. No one is judging you. Hell, I am pretty sure no one is even watching, let alone keeping score. Make the drink you like and let the critics be damned. I have had these with lychee muddled in there or strawberry and mango. I’ve seen them made with other rums, though that feels wrong to me and there is even a popular variation where you swap in vodka, the Caipiroska. Seriously, there are a ton of variations on this one, but I prefer keeping it simple. Three ingredients, a glass, some ice and a stick is all you need, and you can even cheat that a bit. I have muddled these in the bottom of an ice bucket with a spoon “borrowed” from the hotel bar and served them with a smile. Which makes them a nearly perfect cocktail for entertaining while traveling, which I guess helps explain why we have had these in hotel rooms, friend’s houses, the beach, standing in the middle of a field in Ohio and so many other places when a friend from Basel shows up with three ingredients and the truth. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.