Very few songs are so closely associated with a place the way that “Girl from Ipanema” is with sexy and sunny Rio de Janiero. Just by humming a few bars, listeners can transport themselves to the breathtaking Ipanema beach, lined with open-air bars and sidewalk cafés where the beautiful and scantily clad Cariocas (residents of Rio) lounge the time away.
Almost as much as the song is associated with Rio, so is the caipirinha, which is considered the national drink of Brazil. The cocktail is a combination of muddled lime, sugar, and cachaca served over ice in a rocks glass.
Whether you’re enjoying the libation in one of Rio’s hip music clubs, dining at a chic restaurant or stopping by after a swim at a drink stand along Copacabana beach – caipirinhas are everywhere in Rio. The cocktail is much a way of life in Brazil as the famous samba tune.
What sets the caipirinha apart is cachaca, a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane. While most rum is produced by distilling molasses—a byproduct of refining the cane into sugar – cachaca is forged from fermented cane juice. According to JP Caceres, founder of Let’s Imbibe Inc., 1.5 billion liters of cachaca are consumed each year in Brazil. The liquor has a fiery, complex taste tempered with a hint of sugary sweetness.
Cachaca was first consumed by slaves on sugar cane plantations in the country’s northeast in the mid-1500’s. The name caipirinha is derived from the Portuguese word caipira, which refers to someone from the countryside, (loosely meaning hick or country bumpkin), coupled with the -inha suffix (a diminutive denoting little or small).
Similar to its Cuban cousin the mojito, the caipirinha is created from muddled limes to create a fresh and flavorful drink. The traditional Brazilian version involves using superfine sugar which dissolves much better than regular sugar and muddling the sugar granules with the lime wedges so that the oils are extracted from the lime zest, to add more lime aroma and flavor. If you don’t want to use superfine sugar, simple syrup may be substituted.
Leblon, a manufacturer of premium cachaça, offers step-by-step instructions on their website (www.lebloncachaca.com) for creating your own caipirinha. Caceres recently demonstrated his recipe for the caipirinha during an event sponsored by the Museum of the American Cocktail at BourbonSteak restaurant. His recipe follows below.
In Rio, there is no shortage of places to enjoy caipirinhas. If you’re interested in the drink’s musical history, head to the Garota de Ipanema restaurant. The spot where composers Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes are said to have been inspired to write the song while observing a young girl walking towards the beach. Or if you can’t make it to Rio, sample one of these cachaça concoctions at the similarly named Grill from Ipanema in Adams Morgan or Bourbon Steak in Georgetown.
Celebrate rum the right way on National Rum Day on August 16!
Places to Get Your Rum On
Cuba Libre: will be offering ½ price rum and rum cocktails during Caippy Hour on August 16 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. along with their usual Caippy Hour offerings. 801 9th St. NW, DC; 202-408-1600; www.cubalibrerestaurant.com
Grill from Ipanema: 1858 Columbia Rd. NW, DC; 202-986-0757; www.thegrillfromipanema.com
Patty Boom Boom: 1359 U St. NW, DC; 202-629-1712; www.pattyboomboomdc.com
Piratz Tavern: 8402 Georgia Ave. Silver Spring, MD; 301-588-9001; www.piratztavern.com
Ceiba: 701 14th St. NW, DC; 202-393-3983; www.ceibarestaurant.com
Bourbon Steak: 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-944-2060; www.bourbonsteakdc.com