The Caipirinha: Straight Outta Rio

When he texts from Brazil, my brother Robert usually mentions the caipirinha he is enjoying at the moment. I didn't know if it was actually a great cocktail, or just one of those "Ha ha, I'm on the beach at Ipanema and you're not!" sort of things.

I was wary; my research indicated cachaça--the key ingredient of a caipirinha--is not a sophisticated spirit. At P.F.Chang's, while I was deciding which cocktail goes best with pseudo-Chinese, the opportunity arose. The caipirinha was indeed delicious, and its Sprite-with-a-bite taste paired well with Asian cuisine.

There's a saying in Brazil, "the worse the cachaça, the better the caipirinha," but I'd heard that adage about tequila and margaritas, and we know that's not true. So, avoiding Pitú and 51, I moved up a notch to Ypióca. There's the cheaper Crystal, but for a few dollars more, the Ypióca Prata in the wicker-covered bottle was a better choice.

Cachaça is indeed unsophisticated, like the missing link between rum and tequila. It's not harsh, like college tequila, but it's not smooth, and that mild roughness is one of the flavor components of a good caipirinha.

It's rarely a good idea to take a recipe off of a liquor bottle, and caipirinhas didn't seem to be an exception. Many Brazilians like their caipirinhas sweet, and the bottle lists one to two tablespoons of sugar per drink. That's right, tablespoons. I tried one tablespoon, which was very sweet, but with the addition of crushed ice, it was just right. I used Persian limes, but Key limes tasted a little better, and the best was the use of half Key limes, and half Persian limes.

Next to a screwdriver and a rum & Coke, the caipirinha is the easiest drink to make. The key is using crushed ice, lots of it. The ice cuts down on the sweetness of the drink, smooths the cachaça, and cancels out the upcoming August heat advisories.


  • 1½ ounces cachaça
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons white sugar
  • ½ of a regular lime

Slice the ends off a lime, cut it in half lengthwise, cut those pieces into halves, then cut those pieces into halves. Each piece is 1/8 of a lime. Muddle four of those eighths with the sugar, extracting the juice and oil from the peels. Add cachaça and as much crushed ice as your glass can hold. For a different taste, use two key limes, each cut into four pieces. Caipirinhas can also be served on the rocks, but cut down the sugar to 2 teaspoons.

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