“Crab-apple-sour and lethally strong, the first gulp feels like plunging into an icy sea, and coming up for air, gasping but exhilarated. Unlike a dip in the sea, however, it is liable to leave you quite incapable of doing much, save for wondering if another one would be too rash.”
Victoria Moore, How To Drink
I’ve just returned from Brazil where I had my first… and my second… and my third caipirinha. The best to be had in Rio that I found (and I did look) was at a small, traditional Portuguese-tiled bar called Galeto Sats in Copacabana (No 7, Rua Barata Ribeiro – don’t think it has a website). A couple of the capirinhas there, and you’ll find all will be right with the world. It’s a drink to make you smile.
So, of course, I needed to know how to make one for myself. Below you’ll find all you need to know.
How to pronounce caipirinha
First of all, the pronunciation! The ‘n’ and the ‘h’ in combination in Portuguese results in the same sound as the ‘gn’ combination in Italian (as in signora) or the ñ sound in Spanish (as in señor). So it’s KY-pee-reen-ya.
The nature of the beast
The name denotes a sort of female country bumpkin in Portuguese, but in fact, if you compare it to the piratical mojito for example, it’s an altogether rowdier, more dangerous kind of character. It’s heavy on the lime (macho chunks of lime rather than the juice that’s more traditional in a mojito) and it won’t be doing with distractions like mint and soda water. More Clint Eastwood versus Johnny Depp if you get my drift…. Go here for my post on making a mojito.
Make them individually – don’t try and make a whole jug
Can you make caipirinhas up in quantity, for example at a punch for a party? It’s never the same. Set out a whole lot of chilled glasses and put together a mass production line to make lots of individual cocktails instead.
It’s not quite as simple as it looks….
Then the method. On the face of it, it should be simple. But there is many a slip between the chopping board and the lip. In fact, a rollicking caipirinha is a very good test of a barman’s skills.
What to eat with a Caipirinha
I had my first Caipirinha at the Fogo de Chão in Rio and it was served with a sort of chorizo-sausage hybrid which was perfect with it – the lime cut through the rich, mildly spicy, salty sausage – each did the other a favour. The nearest thing I’ve come to that in Britain is the mild chorizo produced by The Three Little Pigs – a specialist rare breed farm in Yorkshire. You can buy it on-line from Caprera. Whatever chorizo/sausage you use, it needs to be hot – fry or grill first.
Seven things to get right when making a caipirinha
1. Choose a good, juicy lime
Choose a really good quality lime. At the risk of sounding picky, the selection of the lime is important. You want a medium-sized Persian (or Tahiti – another name for the same fruit) lime. To help you choose, limes with smoother skin often hold more juice. Those whose skin has gone soft may be past their prime. In Brazil, occasionally the lime is substituted with fifteen or so of the local, sour, black-grape- like fruit, jabuticaba.
2. Remove as much of the pith as you can, within reason, to avoid bitterness
Take off as much of the pith as you can. Cut the lime in half vertically, from the point at the top where it’s been attached to the tree, down – not horizontally as you would normally do when juicing. Then cut one half of the lime into four wedges. The white pith which runs down the centre will be exposed. Just cut this away with a sharp knife.
3. Make them directly into the glass
Don’t fiddle about with a cocktail shaker. Make the cocktail directly in the glass. Why? You’ve left some of the bitter pith under the skin. If you start shaking madly you may damage the skin and liberate some of the bitterness. Instead, put the lime wedges directly into the glass, skin side down. Then add the sugar and mix…. However, if you substitute another fruit for the lime (see alternative versions below) you could make it very effectively in a cocktail shaker….more juice…more flavour…. More refreshing if shaken with the ice.
4. Choose a wide, low V-shaped glass
Don’t try and make this cocktail in a highball. It should go into the sort of glass you might use for a whisky and water.
5. What sort of sugar and how much?
If you use sugar syrup you are in danger of turning your beautiful caipirinha into a hashed daiquiri. Icing sugar is almost as bad. I prefer to use caster sugar, some use golden or brown – but that can make it a bit muddly.
The type of sugar used isn’t as important as the quantity – too much sugar is just as disastrous as too much bitterness.
6. Use cubed rather than crushed ice
You want to drink the cocktail with the full benefit of the strength of the alcohol before the melting ice dilutes it too much.
7. Use ordinary, unaged, white cachaça
When I visited the Pedra Branca factory in Paraty we were given clear advice. You really don’t need to use anything other than the basic, unaged, white cachaça we were told. But you do need to use a good quality make – not one which uses the ‘tail’ in the distillation process. Go to this post for more on cachaça, and a list of reliable brands.
Recipe for making a classic caipirinha cocktail – and some variations on the theme
Serves one very happily
- 1 medium, juicy lime, divided in half. Put one half aside for garnish
- 2-3 tsp caster sugar
- ice cubes….none of your crushed rubbish
- 2 oz/60g/4 tbsp/¼ cup cachaça
- Prepare the half lime, removing the pith, as described above, and put the quarter wedges in the bottom of a low, wide glass, peel-side down.
- Cut a few small slices from the remaining half for garnish.
- Sprinkle the sugar over and ‘muddle’ as they say. If you don’t have all the cocktail gear you could use a wooden spoon, or you could try, gently, using a pestle. The idea is to dissolve the sugar into the juices of the lime without releasing the bitterness in the pith beneath the peel.
- Top up with ice cubes.
- Pour over the cachaça.
Variations on the theme of the caipirinha
Not everyone in Europe has bottles of cachaça lurking in their cocktail cabinets. So what’s to be done for us over here?
- Instead of cachaça you can use vodka to make a caipiroska.
- You can also substitute sake (but substitute the lime for less acidic fruit such as strawberries, white grapes, or kiwi fruit), in which case it becomes a caipisake.
- If you substitute the lime for other fruit (or a mix) it’s known as a caipifruta.
- During the 2014 World Cup fans substituted the sugar for a liqueur from their homeland… be interesting to see if that happens in this year’s Olympics.