Back when I was a lawyer, before I became a travel, food and drink writer, hosting cocktail nights was one of my favourite ways to pass the weekend. The more elaborate the cocktail, the better. Then I took a round the world trip, which included months in South America, where I met Brazil’s national cocktail – the Brazilian Caipirinha. In just one sip, I realised a good cocktail doesn’t need steaming vapours and elaborate garnish. A few simple ingredients quickly muddled together in a glass was enough. And no drink proved this more than the caipirinha
In this article I’ll share a Caipirinha recipe that you can make in under 5-minutes. I’ll also share some alcohol and fruit substitutes because that’s what you want from a simple cocktail.
What is a Brazilian Caipirinha?
Caipirinha is cocktail that originated in Brazil. It’s very simple, made from just 3 ingredients: Cachaça, lime and sugar, that’s served over ice.
What is cachaça?
Cachaça is a Brazilian white spirit (alcohol) that’s made from sugarcane juice.
If you are wondering, cachaça is pronounced Ka-cha-sa. While we’re on the topic, caipirinha is pronounced: kai·puh·ree·nyuh.
How to make a classic Caipirinha
A caipirinha is one of those drinks you can literally throw together with minimal effort and even if you don’t get the recipe quite right (too much booze/too little lime, hic), it can still taste great. So, despite the caipirinha sounding exotic, it’s a very easy cocktail to make that’s perfect for beginners. Here’s how to do it. If you read to the end, you’ll see some variations including what to do if you don’t have any cachaça at home.
Makes 2 drinks
- 2 limes
- 2 to 4 tablespoons of superfine sugar
- 4 ounces of Cachaca (around 120 ml)
I love this ratio because not only does it give you the traditional caipirinha taste you get in Brazil, it’s super easy to remember – 2 limes, 2 sugar and then double the amount of alcohol. Add more sugar if you want it.
What is superfine sugar? Superfine sugar is otherwise known as castor sugar (UK) and baker’s sugar (USA). If you don’t have any, you can use normal sugar but dissolve it in a tiny amount of water first then let it cool in the fridge or use more ice. Whatever you do, don’t use icing sugar as a substitute, you’ll be part way to making cake.
- Quarter the limes lengthways, split them between the glasses and muddle them with a pestle or spoon – try to press the flesh side rather than the peel to release the juices – don’t pulp it too much or it will turn bitter.
- Split the sugar between the glasses and mix in into the juice until the sugar dissolves.
- Add ice to fill the glass then pour the cachaça between the glasses.
Stir. Sit. Drink. Repeat until you fall over.
Where can you buy cachaça?
It shouldn’t be too hard to get hold of cachaça – try your local liquor store or, in the USA, Drizly has a choice of cacaça brands at good prices. In the UK and Europe, try the brand Sagatiba, available in some UK supermarkets otherwise you can buy it on Amazon.
Tip: Unlike Tequila, apparently the white cachaça is better than golden cachaça for making caipirinhas.
Can you make caipirinha with vodka?
It’s a hot sunny day and you really want a caipirinha but the only white spirit you have is the household staple, vodka so you’re wondering – can you make a caipirinha with vodka? Absolutely, yes. In fact, it’s so popular it has its own name – Caipiroska – but it tastes every bit as good (and even better if vodka is your drink of choice anyway).
Can you make caipirinha with white rum?
Yes you can and if you replace the cachaça with white rum, it’s called a caiprisimma. Rum is perhaps the more natural white spirit to substitute for cachaça since it’s sugar-based, unlike vodka which is grain or rye based.
Fun fact: many people think cachaça is a form of rum but it’s been recognised as its own type of spirit since 2013. White rum and cachaça have different production methods as well as base ingredients – cachaça is made from sugarcane juice while white rum is typically made from molasses.
What can you substitute for cachaça
The further you get from a sugar-based white spirit, the more you lose the classic caipirinha taste. But if you’re not fussed about that, you can experiment with any other white spirits and perhaps even some darker spirits. Here’s my list of recommended cachaça substitutes for caipirinha in order of preference:
- white rum
- aged rum
If you want to make an alcohol-free caipirinha mocktail, Seedlip and Lyres both do a great range of non-alcoholic distilled spirits. Follow the recipe above but use the alcohol free spirits instead. You made need a little more of the spirits to boost the flavour which might otherwise feel a bit thin but I’ll leave that to your individual taste.
What are the best limes for caipirinha?
Want to up your caipirinha game? Then get picky about your limes. Tahitian limes are the limes used in Brazil – they are green with more of an oval shape and have low acidity. It may be hard to find those so just dig through the lime pile at your grocery story looking for the largest, most juicy limes you can find (they should feel squashy not hard). Also, try to find limes that have a paler, more lemon colour than the dark green, smaller variety – you’ll get more and sweeter juice from a bigger, paler lime.
When it comes to preparing your limes, give them a roll on the counter before you chop them – this helps release some of the juice.
Making a caipirinha with passion fruit
Adding extra fruit to your drink is a good way to increase the sweetness and decrease the strength of the otherwise very strong cocktail. Making a caipirinha with passion fruit is a Brazilian twist on the classic recipe so I’d suggest starting there. How to do it: take the recipe above but use 2 passion fruit instead of 2 limes. Take the seeds out rather than muddling the split fruit in the glass. This stops the passion fruit skin turning your drink too bitter. Do add a wedge of lime for a slight citrus taste.
Note: Brazilian passion fruit are much bigger than those found in the USA and Europe so if you have a very large fruit, just use one.
Making a caipirinha with strawberries
For a more delicate, sweeter drink, substitute the lime in your caipirinha with strawberries. How many strawberries do you need? That really will depend on the size and sweetness of your berries. I’d start with 4 to 6 fruit and gently muddle them in the glass following the recipe above (remove the green top first). If you want more fruit, add more fruit. Again, I’d suggest adding at least one wedge of lime for flavour.
Popular fruit for making caipirinha
While lime, passion fruit and strawberry are the main fruit used for caipirinha, you really can get creative. Here’s a good list of fruits to try in your caipirinha. Follow the classic recipe above, remove the lime but add one wedge of lime at the end to add a bit of citrus flavour:
- passion fruit
- mixed berries
I also have a feeling peach would be perfect in a caipirinha on a warm summer’s day but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet – let me know if you give it a go.
What’s the difference between caipirinha and mojito
While caipirinha and mojito are very similar in nature, they have very different flavours and that’s mostly down to the mint in mojitos. To compare:
- caipirinha is made from cachaça, a white spirit made from sugarcane juice, sugar and lime.
- mojito is made from white rum, a white spirit made from molasses, sugar and mint.
What’s the best food for caipirinha?
If you’re going to drink Brazil’s national cocktail, it seems only right that you eat one of Brazil’s most classic dishes – churrasco. Churrasco is basically grilled meats, especially beef. So, basically, anything you can barbecue (including veggies and halloumi if you’re vegan or vegetarian). Stick on some Brazilian Samba tunes and get the party started.
That’s my Brazilian caipirinha recipe. Let me know if you have any comments, questions or suggestions.
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