I fell in love with the Caipirinha in Havana, Cuba, at Hemingway’s old haunt El Floridita. Far from a classic Cuban cocktail, it showcases cachaça, the spirit of Brazil.
I wrote about El Floridita and the daiquiri in this post, but we actually ended up drinking more caipirinhas than the drink this bar is known for.
Contrary to what you may think due to the sea of neon straws stuck in frozen piles of daiquiri, the place has a menu, and it’s got classic cocktails (and even food) on it. My first foray away from daiquiris was an El Presidente — a classic drink with rum, vermouth, Curacao and grenadine. However, no grenadine meant plan B. The bartender suggested his favorite drink, the caipirinha.
The caipirinha isn’t Cuban at all — it’s a classic Brazilian drink made with cachaça, lime and sugar. Cachaça has more in common with rhum agricole than rum. While rum is a byproduct of molasses production, rhum agricole and cachaça are both made with sugarcane juice.
In Havana, a lot of cocktail menus included the caipirissima, which is made with rum instead of cachaça. I prefer the slightly vegetal taste of the cachaça, which adds a more nuanced flavor.
At our liquor store in Boston, there were only a few options of cachaça to choose from. I picked up a bottle of Novo Fogo silver cachaça, which I was familiar with because of a rum panel at Thirst Boston that included brand rep Kimi Winkler. On its own, it’s funky and fruity, with a touch of sea salt. My husband says it tastes like a vegetal oyster, which may be hard to imagine but is an apt description.
While I’ve seen varied recipes for the caipirinha, I prefer those that don’t shy away from the sugar. It’s perfect for a sweltering summer day or imagining you’re still on a Caribbean vacation.
2 oz cachaça
2 tsp sugar
1 whole lime
Cube the lime and place in a cocktail shaker with the sugar. Muddle, add the cachaça and ice and shake a few times to emulsify the sugar and crack the ice*. Dump the whole thing, ice and all, into a rocks glass.
*Ideally, use crushed ice.