What does the girl from Ipanema sip when she’s not busy soaking up rays in her teeny tiny bikini? A Caipirinha, ‘natch. Made with cachaça (Brazil’s answer to rum), sugar and muddled lime, it’s a little bit like the Mojito, but somehow seems even more quaffable. Cachaça dates back 500 years in Brazil but has only been available in the U.S. for around twelve years. If you can’t rock it in Rio for the Summer Games, cachaça can dull the FOMO.
But the sugar-based spirit is not a one trick pony, and part of its versatile charm lies in how it’s made. Cachaça is fermented and distilled with freshly pressed sugarcane juice instead of molasses (which is what’s used for rum), meaning the final product oozes herbal and vegetal notes. You can make lots of other amazing libations with cachaça, and versions aged in different types of wood make for super sipping, too. I recently did a virtual tasting of Novo Fogo’s cachaça, during which CEO Dragos Axinte walked us through some facts, misconceptions, and tips for cozying up to this hot spirit category.
A caipirinha made with silver cachaça is an easy entry point. “It’s a brilliant little drink that is unmatched on a hot summer day,” says Axinte.
Barrel-aged is where it’s at in Brazil, with over 90 percent of cachaça consumed after seeing some time in oak, and the type of wood used has changed. “In a victory for sustainability, the industry moved away from those woods and into the utilization of a much more sustainable wood choice: oak (American and French).” So it’s booze you can feel good about.
Unaged or aged cachaça in the shaker? Think of what you’re mixing it with. “Good silver cachaça mixes well with fruit and herbs and are a great tropical substitution for white-spirit cocktails,” says Axinte. “But barrel-aged cachaças broaden the spectrum to virtually any category of cocktails, from classic brown, bitter, and stirred drinks to tiki drinks.” Sub in barrel-aged cachaça for whiskey in the Old Fashioned, Sazerac or Manhattan, or whip up a tropical Batida, with coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, fruit, and spices.
Watermelon Caipirinha (Recipe courtesy of Novo Fogo Cachaça)
This fun take on the Caipirinha is a great way to use up the endless amount of watermelon you always seem to be left with after a backyard barbecue. To make a classic Caipirinha, simply omit the watermelon.
- 2 oz. Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça
- 1 1/4 tsp. Sugar
- 1/2 lime
- 4 watermelon cubes
Remove the white pith from the lime and discard it. Cut the remaining lime into slices, toss them into a cocktail glass and muddle them with the watermelon and sugar. Fill the glass with ice, add the cachaça and shake until chilled. Pour everything into a rocks glass or mason jar.
Batida (Recipe courtesy of Novo Fogo Cachaça)
Brazil’s second-most popular cachaça concoction puts the lime in the coconut and drinks them both up. Purchase the passionfruit syrup from bgreynolds.com.
- 2 oz. Novo Fogo Silver or Chameleon Cachaça
- 1/2 oz. coconut milk
- 1/2 oz. lime juice
- 1 oz. BG Reynold’s Passionfruit Syrup
Add all ingredients to a blender with 1/2 cup of ice and blend until smooth, or shake all ingredients with crushed ice and pour everything into a glass to serve.
Iguacu (Recipe courtesy of Blue Duck Tavern)
Inspired by the Caipirinha, food and beverage manager Michael Bryan’s garden version is decidedly more off-the-beaten path. “The vegetal notes of the cachaça pair well with the sweet vegetal notes of the carrots and is tempered by some lemon/lime and ginger simple syrup,” he notes.
- 2 oz. carrot-infused Leblon Cachaça (see Note)
- 1/2 oz. ginger syrup (see Note)
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 1 whole lime
- Mint leaf, for garnish
Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice and roll (or shake) until well chilled. Pour drink and ice into a rocks glass, and garnish with the mint leaf.
For the carrot-infused cachaça:
Pour one 750ml bottle of cachaça into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Add 3 carrots (peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch thick coins). Macerate until the desired flavor is reached, then strain out solids and store cachaça in the refrigerator.
For the ginger syrup:
Combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer until sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add 5 1/4 -inch thick slices of peeled ginger. Steep until the desired flavor is reached, then strain out solids and store in the refrigerator.
Hogo Boss (Recipe courtesy of Jack Rose Dining Saloon)
‘Hogo’ is the term used to describe the molasses-like flavor and earthy aroma of Caribbean pot-distilled rums--a small amount is used in the hogo Gomme syrup. “"Sao Paulo Cachaca lends its smooth South American flavor to balance this fun cocktail with Caribbean influence,” says head bartender Benny Hurwitz.
- 1 1/2 oz. Sao Paulo Cachaça
- 1 oz. hogo Gomme syrup (see Note)
- 3/4 oz. lime juice
- 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Chilled ginger beer
- Lime slice and cherry, for garnish
Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a tulip or high ball glass, top with the ginger beer, and garnish with a lime and cherry.
For the Hogo Gomme syrup:
Peel and cut a half a pineapple into small chunks, combine with 1 cup white sugar and let macerate in a large jar for 24 hours. Blend and strain pineapple and sugar mixture, and combine it in a large pot with 2 cups coconut palm sugar, 2 cups water, 1/2 oz. high proof Jamaican rum and 1g gum arabic (purchase from amazon.com). Whisk vigorously or mix with an immersion blender.