The name caipirinha (pronounced => kai-pee-reen-yah –– with the r slightly trilled) is derived from the Portuguese word caipira (hick, hayseed, country bumpkin, rube, etc.––essentially a Li’l Abner type) coupled with the -inha suffix (a diminutive denoting little or small) and can be variously translated as little hick, little hayseed, little country bumpkin, little rube, etc., etc. Again, like the word cachaça, there really is no translation for caipirinha (the drink) except caipirinha … unless you prefer to call it a little hick, little hayseed, little country bumpkin, little rube, etc.. But most people would rather drink one that get hung up on the name. Cachaça is also the primary ingredient in numerous batidas (cachaça and fruit/fruit juice mixtures).
Nobody knows for sure exactly who made the first caipirinha or when. Many older Brazilians claim that the caipirinha was originally a folk remedy used to help alleviate the symptoms of colds and the flu and to soothe sore throats. Even today, many Brazilians are known to create a concoction of lime juice, cachaça and honey as a remedy for colds and flu. The use of ice is most certainly a modern innovation. We can only speculate that the use of sugar (or honey) that is one of bed rocks of the caipirinha was used to help the cachaça go down a little smoother because, after all, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down …”
There is an old adage in Brazil: quanto pior a cachaça, melhor a caipirinha––the worse the cachaça, the better the caipirinha. Consequently, most “experts” believe it’s best to use clear colored (white), non aged cachaça, essentially, the cheapest available. We agree! Therefore, the popular (and usually more readily available) Pitú, 51 or Ypioca brands are perfect for making a world class caipirinha.
A caipirinha must be made with fresh lime to achieve an “authentic” taste. In Brazil, the very best caipirinhas are made with limões galegos––what in the U.S. is often referred to as a key lime. That’s what we believe is best too. The limão galego has a lighter lime odor and tastes a little more acidic. The larger, more readily available, thick-skinned, Tahitian limes sold in the U.S., Brazil and elsewhere can certainly be used but are not as good as key limes (limões galegos).
Classic Caipirinha Recipe (also see observations & notes and making caipirinhas by the pitcher)
In an old fashioned or (flat bottomed) on-the-rocks glass,
- add 2 to 3 (depending on size) key limes cut into thin slices (approximately 1/8 inch thick). some people like to peel the limes before slicing but this eliminates the lime oil in the peel, which many believe to be essential for an ‘authentic’ taste. You may want to remove any seeds before muddling … unless you’re fond of straining them through your teeth.
- Add 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of sugar to the top of the lime slices (Brazilians like it VERY sweet) Muddle (mash) sugar and limes together well
- Add 2 to 3 shots (ounces) cachaça Stir well to thoroughly dissolve the sugar, add cracked ice, stir, enjoy … and think tropical thoughts!
Caipirinhas by the Pitcher
Caipirinhas can certainly be made by the pitcher and we’ve known some Brazilians that make them that way. The important thing when doing this is to maintain the basic ratio of limes, sugar and cachaça. However, muddling can be a bit of a problem when working with this quantity. Some have been known to muddle everything in a metal pan using a very large diameter dowel rod—something at least twice the diameter of a broomstick. Be prepared for a real workout when working with this quantity. Muddling should be done pretty vigorously to release the lime oil in the peel. You also may want to consider gradually adding the sugar throughout the muddling process. After muddling, everything should be transferred to a pitcher before adding the cachaça, mixing thoroughly and, finally adding the ice if you so desire.
- When rum is substituted for cachaça it’s called a caipirissima. When vodka is substituted for cachaça, it’s called a caipirosca. There’s even such a thing as a grapirinha made with Italian grappa, tropical fruit and sugar as well as a sakerinha or sakquêrinha made with Japanese sake or sakquêand either kiwi fruit and/or lime as well as the ever present sugar. We’ve also had reports that some folks are making a drink with half cachaça and half rum or vodka and using brown sugar. We’re not sure what this should be called but it is not a totally authentic caipirinha, however, it will stretch your bottle of cachaça if you’re having trouble finding a regular supplier in the US or elsewhere!
- For those who don’t like the acidity of the classic, traditional caipirinha (made with fresh limes), tangerine or orange (including the peel) can be substituted, making for a sweeter, less acidic, albeit, not totally authentic caipirinha … but very good! A hint on this one: because oranges and tangerines are naturally sweeter than limes, use less sugar unless you really need a sugar rush!
- Some have been known to add a few fresh mint leaves to the lime and sugar before (or after) muddling the mixture. It adds another level of flavor that is very refreshing.
- Caipirinha aficionados use only white cane sugar (made from sugarcane) when making a caipirinha, never beet sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, etc.
- Slices or wedges? Most bartenders in both Brazil and elsewhere use lime wedges because they have them already prepared for other drinks. The only thing that can be said is that slices make the entire muddling process much easier.
- In Brazil, the sugar is of a finer granularity, similar to what is often called superfine sugar in the United States and elsewhere. It makes using the typical American sugar that has a “rougher” granularity a little more challenging but have patience. It just takes a little more mixing before you add the ice.
- Any type of liquid sugar––what American bartenders would call simple syrup––is never used in Brazil, which is, after all, the birthplace of the caipirinha. _Many try to use frozen, concentrated limeade instead of muddling together fresh limes and sugar. We don’t know what the resulting drink should be called but certainly not a caipirinha!
- American bartenders often use a combination of sweet and sour and simple syrup instead of muddling together limes and sugar. While it is certainly faster and less labor intensive, it does not produce a real caipirinha! _Don’t use your best crystal glasses for (literally) muddling in. The act of muddling is pretty vigorous so use a strong, cheap, glass glass.
- _Brazilians have been known to muddle the lime and sugar in a pilão (mortar and pestle) before transferring the mixture to a glass and then adding the cachaça and ice.
- It’s best to use a wooden muddler which can be purchased from many restaurant equipment supply stores. Alternately, use any wooden “thing” you have in the kitchen or even a piece of broomstick! After all, there’s really nothing technically advanced about a muddler. Some restaurant equipment supply stores even have muddlers made from plastic which may prove easier to keep clean.
- 51 brand cachaça distributes a packaged powdered caipirinha mix consisting of sugar and freeze dried lime juice that they claim produces a “natural taste”. We’re not sure what part of nature they’re from to think that it tastes “natural” but we disagree! While using a caipirinha mix may be faster, it does not produce a real caipirinha!
- Some describe a caipirinha to the uninitiated as something akin to a sweet margarita. OK, for the uninitiated, that works!