Caipirinha, (pronounced kai-pir-in-ya) and cachaça (pronounced “cah-cha-za”) are two words travelers to Brazil definitely need to know. The specialty spirit of cachaça is integral not just to caipirinhas but to the very culture of the country. This liquor is distilled from fermented sugarcane juice. It’s often compared to rum because it can be used as a substitute in some rum-based cocktails (the mojito, daiquiri and cuba libre, for example) but cachaça has its own distinct flavor. It also packs a stronger punch than rum, even though both spirits are made from sugar cane. Cachaça is distilled from the fresh-pressed juice and here differs from rum, which is typically made from the molasses of the sugarcane.
Like any spirit, there are a number of options when it comes to buying cachaça, from incredibly cheap and hangover-inducing, to refined, excellent options worth drinking on the rocks. Check with the local wine or spirits store to get a better feel for something in the right price and taste range.
So, now that cachaça is covered, let’s take a look at the cocktail. Traditional Caipirinhas are very simple to prepare: just mix lime juice, sugar, and cachaça; the best caipirinhas are a mix of sour and sweet, without the lime or sugar overpowering the other. The drink is made from relatively inexpensive ingredients, making it quite popular at beachside bars. Try a traditional caipirinha of lime first, then consider branching out to other flavors like strawberry, passion fruit, or the Brazilian cherry fruit pitanga. If cachaça turns out to be too strong, as it is for many non-Brazilians, then consider a capiroska, the same drink made with vodka, as an alternative.