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Drink of the Week: Caipirinha

It's one thing to be able to make this drink, but it's something else to be able to pronounce it! For those of you who don't speak Portuguese, we are making a kai-peer-EEN-ya this week. And if that wasn't challenging enough, the base spirit in this drink is called cachaça, which is pronounced kah-SHA-sah. Even if you have trouble saying these words, you won't have any problem making the cocktail. It's one of the easiest drinks to make and you don't even need a shaker.

The Caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil and it is common throughout that country. In the U.S. it's growing in popularity. I really enjoy this drink because it is so easy to make, having only a base spirit, limes and sugar. Categorically, this a sour like others we have seen, but the preparation of this drink also puts it in the smash category.

Caipirinha
2 oz cachaça
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges
2 tbsp granulated sugar

Cut a lime in half and cut each half into 4 wedges (eighths of the whole lime). Drop 4 wedges into a rocks or old fashioned glass. Spoon the sugar onto the limes and muddle to squeeze out all of the juice. Add ice to fill the glass. Pour cachaça over the ice and stir to chill, adding more ice if necessary.

Breaking It Down
First, let's look at our base spirit. Cachaça, though common in Brazil, is finally starting to appear in regular liquor stores here. It's a clear spirit made from the distillation of fermented sugar cane. It's often grouped on the shelf with rum, but it's not the same thing. While they are similar in that they both come from sugar cane, rum is distilled from fermented molasses, whereas cachaça is made directly from the juice of the sugar cane itself. The flavor is different too.

Limes and sugar would make this drink very similar to a daiquiri, but in this case, rather than settling for a squeeze of juice, the Caipirinha calls for whole wedges to be muddled. We also use granulated sugar rather than simple syrup. The grains of sugar act as an abrasive against the peel of the lime helping to release oils into the glass as you muddle. Be sure to muddle before you add ice so you can press the juice and oil from every lime wedge thoroughly.

Adding plenty of ice before you pour in the cachaça ensures that this cocktail will chill as you stir it. At the same time, some of the ice will melt, diluting the cocktail just enough to remove the alcohol burn allowing you to taste the full flavor of the spirit.

That's all there is too it. It's a delicious drink that's easy to make without a lot of ingredients. As I mentioned, no shaker is required, so you can make this one quietly. Finally, there's no need to add any garnish since the lime wedges remain in the cocktail. As with just about any recipe, there are variations. You'll find delicious examples that use different fruit and even some that switch out the base spirit. I always encourage experimentation, but if you start swapping ingredients, give your creation a new name. It's really not a Caipirinha without cachaça, lime wedges and sugar.

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