Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making the perfect caipirinha

Somehow I have gone for three years without talking about my role as chief caipirinha maker in our group of friends.  Invariably, at every party, I wind up in the kitchen making caipirinhas.
My guess is that no one else wants to go through all the trouble of making the cocktails so they smile at the gringo, flatter me with praise about my being the best caipirinha maker, and then hand me a bag of ingredients and escort me to the kitchen.
As for me, in the beginning, since I had next to zero language abilities, it was more fun to make caipirinhas and receive praise in the form of smiles and raised glasses than it was to sit in a chair and watch the world go by.
So at this point I have made hundreds of these things and have, indeed, become a bit of an aficionado.
After screening about a dozen YouTube videos looking for a demonstration I could stand behind I found this one.  But – it still falls short.  I have a number of comments/corrections to add, but I liked the sound track.  Take a look, and then check out my critique below.

First, you probably noticed the lime ingredient is referred to as a lemon.  That’s because the common name of this fruit in Portuguese is “limão” and there really are no true yellow lemons here, except in the imported fruit section of better grocery stores (so there is little reference for Brazilians to make a distinction).  Actually, my fancy dictionary says that in Portuguese a lime is “lima” and a lemon is “limão” but everyone I’ve ever heard calls a lime a limão.  Luiz still gets these two fruits mixed up.  Anyway…
Next, that bottle of cachaça wrapped in that distinctive cane webbing is undoubtedly Ypióca brand.  Personally, I would not use it for caipirinhas, especially the dark variety.  I prefer the darker (aged in wood, thus the color) cachaças for sipping and use exclusively clear cachaças for caipirinhas. (Unless there is no choice…)
The video suggests that the darker cachaças are generally sweeter than the clear.  I’m not so sure about that.  They definitely are more flavorful, but not necessarily sweeter.  It is this flavor (however refined or not) that makes them ill-matched for a caipirinha.  Stick with the clear fire water stuff.
A plião is basically a muddler.  Be sure to keep your food and beverage muddlers separate.  You do not want to use your garlic crushing or spice grinding pestle to smash up sugar and limes for a cocktail.
As is done in the video, I like to cut the lime into pretty small pieces (don’t forget to give them a good washing before you use them), this makes for more surface area involved when you muddle, releasing more juice from the fruit and oil from the peel.  Some people prefer the aesthetic of larger wedges.
Sugar quantity is a personal taste thing.  I err on the less-sweet side.  If you want a sweet drink, make a kiwi or maracujá “caipifruta.”  In a caipirinha I think you should use enough sugar to balance out the bitter and tart flavors of the lime, but not try to go for a sweet drink.  The example in the video has too much sugar, IMHO, as evidenced by the layer of undissolved sugar mud at the bottom of the glass in his finished product.  When perfect flavor is not an issue, some folks prefer to use artificial sweetener to save on all the calories.
Like the video, I fill the glass with (filtered water) ice and top it off with the cachaça.  But unlike the video, I then plop it all into a cocktail shaker (or suitable substitute) and shake the heck out of it for a good long time.  This both gets it nicely chilled, as well as facilitates dissolving the sugar.  Then I pour it all back into the glass.
Again, use clear cachaça.  That nasty brownish cocktail at the end of the video turns me off.
One other thing: while most people turn their noses up at Cachaça 51 brand cachaça as being rot gut cheap stuff, I think it actually is perfect for a standard caipirinha.  But that’s just me.
Remember, don’t drink and drive.
To REALLY get an eye full of all things cachaça, take a look at the Cachaçagora blog.


Rachel said...

I have tasted your Caipirinhas and I do agree, they rock! Go down a little too easy if I do say so.

The Reader said...

Will have to watch the video later, but one trick, which is a total cheat and not at all authentic, but which my lovely DH The Chemist does -- melt your sugar in some water first. Or in the lime juice. I'll have to double check with him what he melts it in.

But, he heats it up, melts it, stirs that in instead of trying to dissolve the sugar in a cold drink.

And, we're rather fond of using the (rarely found) orange limao and vodka. Y-U-M. Super yum.

Definitely an art, and I do not have the skills myself. Hat tip to you, Jim, for getting it right.

Nina said...

I really caipirinha myself out in the first year. I can't do it anymore..... for right now. So I have started making sake caipirinhas as a substitute. But that caipirinha blog I found from you is amazing. Hopefully I will get over my problem, I do love caipirinhas. I like the "red fruit" one.

Gil and Ray said...

Hey Jim,

Great post!
I am with you about cachaca 51, it is also my favorite, and very expensive around the US by the way.
The YELLOW lemon is actually called "Limao Siciliano" or "Sicilian Lemon".
Lima is an orange, very sweet and very low acidity, in Brazil, it is commonly given to infants, because it is gentle on their system and it's still full of vitamin C.
The Sicilian Lemon is becoming more and more popular in Brazil, it's being produced in Sao Paulo now and can be found anywhere in Sao Paulo. My mother makes a great "Sicilian Lemon creamy pasta", it sounds odd, but it's delicious.
Perhaps Sicilian Lemon is more common in the US because most of the Italians that immigrated to the US are originally from Sicily.
Brazil had massive immigration from Northern Italy, places like Venneto, Emiglia Romana, Tuscany, Lombardia and Vale D'Osta where part of my family came from and where the "GREEN LEMON", "Limao" is more common.
The "Orange" lemon, mentioned by "The Reader" is called "Limao Caipira" or "Red Neck Lemon", it is more common in small towns or rural areas, it is somewhat rare in Sao Paulo or other big cities, but it's Gil's favorite.
My favorite liquor for caipirinhas is Bacardi Rum, clear, always, I also with you on that.


Gil and Ray said...


Gil just told me that the "Orange Lemon" mentioned by "The Reader" is also called "Limao Canela" or "Cinammon Lemon".

bee and jay said...

Jim, as far as we're concerned your "critique" is bang on! Caipirinhas are both addictive & lethal, so we don't make them too often. Another reason is that living here in Canada we tend to associate the citrusy beverage with warm weather, which we really only get between April & October, so our drinking season is a bit limited. But we're probably overdue and will have to pull out the muddler this weekend!

Jim said...

Reader, yeah, hes making up sugar syrup'. Some bars use this approach to avoid the undisolved sugar mud problem. I have not seen this in a store here.

Ray, glad to hear the Sicilian lemon is gaining in popularity. It is a pain to find some times. It's NEVER at the farmer's market or in small grocery stores. Hortifruti is my best bet when I'm having a lemon merange pie jones.

I should have added to choose bright green limes with a smooth skin that respond to a slight squeezing at the market. A tough, dry lime adds nothing to a caipirinha coacktail.

Anita said...

Oh My ! I have never seen that: a caipirinha video review. A pergunta que nao quer calar: when do we get to see your OWN vid ?

Georges said...

Very good post on how to prepare a caipirinha! I have a complete blog on this topic and I hope you enjoy it.


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