Teaching Christine how to make a Caipirinha

Christine: The hammer she is holding means that she never pulls punches.

As a child I remember Christine as a good friend of my parents, one of their many friends that I had a lot of respect for.  I recall Christine as being louder than, well…most things. And, as a shy child I was embarrassed by her off-the-cuff grown-up topics of conversation.  As an adult I really appreciate her joie de vivre and would like to get drunk with her to embarrass other shy people with our loudness, because no one has ever wondered how much fun Christine is having: more than you.

When Christine sent me an email asking how to make a Caipirinha, it hit me at just the right moment.  She didn’t know, like most Americans don’t know, that the Caipirinha is one of the world’s most ordered cocktails, just not in the US of A.  In that way, the Caipirinha is the soccer of the cocktail world.  A truly accurate metaphor as most Americans experience soccer through the peewee swarm ball played on Sunday afternoon, instead of the violently skilled and nuanced sport that it is, so shall they not get the real Caipirinha.

But lets talk about me, ’cause this is my blog.  It struck me because I recently quit my job and like every genius or angry loner, I am disillusioned with most of my peers. An exception would be my friend Casey Robison who said, “Remember when you could just make a Sazerac and people would freak out?”  I want to go on record to say that Casey  is my touchstone in this industry, if he says I’m OK, then I am.  If he says I’ve gone too far, I’m coming back.  To explain Casey’s sentiment with yet another metaphor, what he means is that much like the 13 minute progressive rock guitar solo, such a riff can only be understood by the members of Steely Dan.  Many bartenders forget their audience and craft drinks for each other. Furthermore, so much information is available now on blogs like this, that many bartenders forsake the basics for the showstoppers.

Casey Robison is looking up at that text to see if it is bullshit. photo by chad coleman at: chadcoleman.wordpress.com

With all of this in mind I really wanted to take the time to explain one of the world’s simplest and most popular drinks to a family friend who is very far from the craft cocktail renaissance enjoyed by Seattle.  Every time I make a simple drink like this it brings me such great joy because I can work to perfect them the rest of my life, unlike so many other cocktails that get tried once before getting shelved, filed and forgotten.  Drinks like the Caipirinha also bring me to the joy of the drink’s roots: a simple country drink – the direct meaning in Portuguese.  It is the simple combination of mashed fruit, spirit and sugar, but when made well, it goes far beyond the sum of its parts.

Christine emails (not knowing the the huge can of Arrakis sized worms she was opening) to ask about the Caipirinha.

To: Andrew
From: Christine

Tim suggested I try Caipirinha, a Brazilian drink with cachaca, a Brazilian alcohol. I CAN’T find either the drink offered or the alcohol offered ANYWHERE.

In typical verbose Andrew fashion, I’d like to show off my lexicon while explaining what goes into this drink.  Heard that shit before?   Fine, just skip the first email where I give a history lesson, and scroll down to the second email wherein lies the how-to-make-a-better-drink lesson.

Then I got started ranting:

To: Christine
From: Andrew

Leblon is the only cachaca available in Virginia. [Found this on the liquor board’s barely functioning website] It is owned by Bacardi and shouldn’t be too hard to find. But at least it is a good cachaca. Did you know that the Caipirinha is one of the most ordered drinks in the world, just not in America? It is the soccer of cocktails.

Cachaca is basically a type of rum, an, “agricole,” meaning from fresh pressed sugar cane. As apposed to an, “industrial,” which is made from molasses; almost all rum is industrial.

There are only 2 other agricoles in VA: Oronoco and 10 Cane. These aren’t cachaca, but they are close. Diageo owns 10 Cane but Oronoco is small time. They are only OK either way.

Once you pick up a bottle of Leblon, I can show the traditional and hybridized was of making a caipirinha.

It is not rum, but in America, the law is that it says, “rum’” somewhere on the bottle. Cachaca is not a liqueur, though it is often found in the liqueur section in the liquor store. Captain, “former raping and pillaging pirate retired to own a bunch of slaves,” Morgan is however a 70 proof bottle of piss that is allowed in the rum section. So please understand these things don’t always make sense.

Then, Christine needs more information:

To: Andrew
From: Christine

OK, I have to find the Leblon today. What do I have to buy to make the drink? Limes? And how does one pronounce this drink?

Now starts the explaining :

To: Christine
From: Andrew

Next steps, I’ll probably put all of this into a blog post for you, is that OK?

Cachaca: kuh- cha-suh:  Fresh pressed sugar cane rum
Caipirinha: kai-per-EEN-yuh: Portuguese for “little country drink”

It is the Brazilian national cocktail and is very easy to make, here are two ways, the first is the most traditional and the second is more advanced.

Recipe 1: Traditional
aka- most rustic, how they literally do it on the farm

1 good bottle Novo Fogo Cachaca, Sugar, Lime

A bag to crush ice (lewis bag), a jigger, a muddler, a knife and a mixing tin

Start off with a pint glass or a mason jar [mason jar is so 2005 says Michelle, but I still like it] or a sturdy bowl.

Quarter the lime

pretty easy

Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar on the lime in the glass.

Muddle them together, no muddler? Use the handle of a large wooden spoon, I can send you a muddler, too. [just Christine, I can’t send you a muddler. GO BUY ONE:  I use this muddler from Vic Firth.  Here are photos of me doing so.]

Do not muddle through ice, muddle only fruit. If you muddle through ice you will bring shame upon your house. It is also stupid.

Pour in 2 oz of cachaca (I do this is a mixing glass)

Pour into an old fashioned glass and mix with ice

This will be chewy, but it is the most traditional

Eh, it is drink-a-bull but not that great, lots of dumbasses top with soda at this point, sigh

A simple improvement: same thing but use simple syrup instead of sugar

[Recipe for simple syrup] Heat water to the point of boiling (don’t boil) and add an equal part sugar by volume to the water. Remove from heat, stir til dissolved. Better why? Sugar doesn’t dissolve in alcohol, when you add sugar to this drink; it eventually dissolves from melting ice. Use simple syrup for a better drink.

Ideally, the drink is better over crushed ice. Just put your ice in a towel and hit it with a wooden or rubber mallet. Voila!

Smack ice with a hammer or mallet in a towel, a rolled up napkin, or perhaps a lewis bag, this one by Alison Webber

Recipe 2: Improvement on Traditional
It is complicated, but better than any other recipe out there

My buddy Dragos, who owns a Cachaca brand, [the one pictured here, Novo Fogo, highly recommended] taught me this one:

Those little ends will bring you no juice

Cut the lime in half and carefully cut off the very tip of each end (this removes more of the bitter pith)

Make a little, “v,” incision to remove the pith that runs the length of the inside of the lime, again, just bitterness that adds no juice, the oils in the peel will give us just the right bitterness

Cut that middle pith, this removes another bitter aspect and will make muddling super easy, unless you muddle through ice, like an airport bartender.

Put the lime half on a cutting board, peel side up and score just the top of the peel, like making little tic-tac-toe boards

Score the lime

After scoring the lime in a different direction, it will look like this, full of juice, bereft of bitter and easy to muddle. It also stays true to the drinks aesthetic.

Now what will happen when you muddle is you will get the most juice, with the least amount of effort. And,  just the right amount of oils will come through for this rustic farmer’s drink.

The weakened lime, sprinkle with a touch of sugar will muddle with just a couple easy mashes. Then add the simple syrup and the cachaca.

When muddling, split the difference between sugar and simple syrup. Modern bartenders don’t use granulated sugar, but Dragos [and this guy named Evan Martin who works for him] says respecting this tradition helps tear the skin of the lime.

Transfer sugary muddled lime to cocktail shaker

Add 2 oz of cachaca

Fill shaker with that crushed ice you just learned how to make

Gently shake the drink

Shake the drink with crushed ice, please note the caipirinha is one of the only drinks that retains the ice it is shaken with. This drink will stay cold and frosty the whole BBQ long.

Pour into a glass, NO STRAW, enjoy the cold in your face

So hopefully you can see why this was such a refreshing question to have asked.  When I first met Dragos, I thought I knew the Caipirinha just fine and he showed me I could do it better.  I try to apply this philosophy to every cocktail I approach.  The modern bartender or mixologist can easily be overwhelmed with so much information about vermouth, Fernet and fresh orgeat they may never perfect the simplest aspects of the craft.

Daniel-san, “show me, paint fence,” then you can have a bottle of Ardbeg to do whatever you want with.

This entry was posted in brands, cachaca, Classic Cocktails, rum, rum history and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Teaching Christine how to make a Caipirinha

  1. Tony Harion says:

    To: Chistine
    From: Tony
    Just make sure you don’t pick up that bottle with a big “51” on the label (far left in the picture). That stuff is bad for you. It retails here in Brazil for about $1,50 in my state and even at that price point it’s not worth it.

    To: Andrew
    From: Tony
    Great write up! I’m gonna try the tic-tac-toe technique later toninght. Usually I go for bigger pieces (almost the traditional pictured), because although they are harder to muddle I usually get less loose pit and better texture; at the same time, the TTT tecnique sounds interesting.


  2. Mary says:

    My mouth is watering reading the description and seeing the final product….

  3. Neil says:

    Question: why not muddle in the shaker to retain as much flavor as possible?

    Also, isn’t it actually “kuh-sha-suh”, ’cause of the little thingy attached to the second “c”?

    The post reminds me of why “easy as pie” isn’t.

  4. Casey Robison says:

    Holy moly! I’m touched man; what a rad compliment. Great post man; drinks soon please!

  5. For the record: Mason jars are soooo 1858.

    It’s the serving a craft cocktail in a mason jar that is so 2005. And, annoyingly, a way for a lot of establishments to cover for mediocre drinks by hiding behind the veneer of rustic.

  6. rafe says:

    arrakis can of worms…awesome.

  7. Jacob Briars says:


    Another of your always well considered posts. You break down the Caipirinha into a couple of small, simple steps, which shows just how easy it is to make well, and which makes me wonder why getting a good one in a bar or restaurant is so hard!

    The only comments I would make relate to the various bits of brand information in your email to Christine. You state that Leblon is owned by Bacardi, which isn’t true, tho it is distributed by Bacardi in some countries (but not in the USA). Also 10 Cane is part of the Moet Hennessey stable, not Diageo. Finally though cachaca has a lot of similarities to rhum agricole, cachaca is made from fermented fresh sugar cane juice, and can only be distilled up to 48% abv, making it (together with pisco) probably the least refined and most ‘rustic’ of spirits. Rhum agricole on the other hand, is made from cooked sugar cane juice and can be distilled up to 70% abv, and is usually distilled twice, making it a more refined and processed spirit.

    Love the post, I hope the new changes in your life will see you blogging a lot more!

    • caskstrength says:

      Yeah readers, what Jacob said is correcter than what what I said. And I wasn’t talking smack about Leblon buddy, I’ve sold enough of it to fill a swimming pool. Thanks for the fact check.

  8. I recently wrote about Caipirinha(s) for NJ Monthly Magazine. They are certainly a powerful little cocktail. Seem to remember losing my mind on them in Brazil. It was New Year’s Eve, and I was on the Copacabana Beach.. Completely swizzled by Caipirinha(s). The moon was absent, the beach covered with piles of sand covered with flaming logs and candles. The hallucinatory nature of Caipirinha in large quantities added to my already sloshed form. A fine time had on the beach at night.. All because of a little green cocktail.

  9. byte1 says:

    Тhank you. Interesting post !

  10. Pingback: Spice & Berry Caipirinha | Life Is Better With Mezcal

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