Brazil's National Cocktail

Caipirinha: The Hillbilly Highball

A cocktail that's difficult to spell and impossible to pronounce, especially after drinking a few

By Robb Walsh November 6, 2013

Image: Robb Walsh

The caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil and one of the most ubiquitous cocktails of South America. The word is Brazilian slang for somebody who lives in the countryside, the equivalent of the American "hick" or "hillbilly." It is pronounced: KAY-PUR-EEN-YA. The version I tried at Copacabana Pizzeria on Kirkwood the other day was toothache-sweet, but it's easy to adjust the sweetener level to your own tastes.

The drink is made with the sugar cane spirit called cachaça—little-known in the U.S., but currently the third most widely consumed spirit in the world. Most of it is rough stuff, distilled cheaply for mass production, but premium small batch producers such as GRM and Avua are now selling their products in the U.S. Like a margarita or a daiquiri, the dominant flavors of the caipirinha cocktail are lime and sugar. Recipes vary, but aggressive muddling of the limes to release the oil in the peel seems to be the secret to success. 

Artisan distiller Leblon Cachaça offers a step-by-step illustration of the process that is more helpful than any printed recipe; he also makes an easy variation called a Caipirinha Americana that uses lemon-lime soda instead of sugar or syrup.

Here's the classic recipe:


Makes one cocktail

2 ounces Cachaça (preferably from an artisan producer)
One Persian lime, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons of sugar or half an ounce of simple syrup

Put two of the lime wedges and sugar in a rocks glass and crush vigoroulsy with a muddler. Grind the lime peels with the muddler to release the oils. Add the cachaça. Transfer to a shaker half full of crushed ice and shake for a few minutes. Strain the drink into a rocks glass full of crushed ice. Garnish with the two reserved lime quarters.




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