Chances are high you encountered Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha, if you’ve traveled to the South American country. Refreshing and easy to make, the cocktail contains fresh lime juice, sugar and cachaça—a spirit as central to Brazilian identity as samba, soccer and carnival. Cachaça is also the country’s national spirit, inextricably tying this drink to its home.
First made in the 1500s, cachaça is similar to rum, but it has a flavor all its own. Most rums are distilled from molasses, a byproduct of sugarcane processing, while cachaça is distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane. This important difference yields a distinct spirit that is characterized by its funky, grassy flavors, which set the Caipirinha apart from other sweet-and-sour cocktails like the Daiquiri.
It’s unclear exactly when the Caipirinha first appeared, but many historians believe it was served in the early 20th century as a remedy for illness. Others say it was invented in the 19th century by Brazilian farmers as a way to showcase local sugarcane. Regardless of how or when it was born, drinkers have gravitated toward its pleasing flavors and heady effects ever since.
The Caipirinha is easy to make and can be constructed right in the glass, but its build instructions are exacting. Lime juice and simple syrup won’t get the job done: The drink specifically calls for lime wedges and finely granulated sugar. Muddling the limes with abrasive sugar helps to release not only the fruit’s juice, but also the rich, aromatic oils from the peel.
The classic Caipirinha is not a cocktail that requires improvement—it’s delicious as is. But that’s never kept bartenders from experimenting and tweaking the original recipe. The most common variation is the Caipiroska, which is simply made with vodka in place of cachaça. Other variations call for muddling fruits like raspberry or pineapple with the lime. Whichever route you go, the Caipirinha is refreshing and flavorful, with a unique ability to bring you straight to the tropics, no matter where you’re drinking.
Click Play to See This Caipirinha Recipe Come Together
1 lime, cut into wedges
2 teaspoons sugar
2 ounces cachaça
Garnish: lime wheel
In a double rocks glass, muddle the lime wedges and sugar.
Fill the glass with ice, add the cachaça, and stir briefly.
Garnish with a lime wheel.