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Cheers to Rio Olympics

July 23, 2016 GMT

It’s tempting to call cachaca a Brazilian rum and think of the caipirinha as another muddled tropical cocktail.

The upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro may change that. Brazil’s national cocktail and unique distillation of sugarcane juice into a clear liquor are poised for the kind of worldwide exposure enjoyed by tequila after the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and Australian wines after the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

“We Americans love to consume the Olympics and ‘travel’ there without going there by drinking and eating and celebrating the culture of whatever the host country is, so I think a lot of people are going to be watching the Olympic Games with a caipirinha in their hands,” Leblon Cachaca President and CEO Steve Luttman said in a recent interview.

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Cachaca (pronounced ka-SHAH-sah) and rum share origins in sugarcane but they are processed differently.

Cachaca, by definition, must be produced in Brazil with fresh sugarcane juice and contain alcohol by volume of 38 to 48 percent.

Rum can be made anywhere, and it’s usually made from molasses and distilled at higher percentages of alcohol by volume.

The U.S. formally recognized cachaca as a distinct product of Brazil in 2013 after the two countries signed a trade agreement (in exchange, Brazil recognized bourbon and Tennessee whiskey as distinctive U.S. products).

While the caipirinha’s sweet, tropical flavors may resemble a mojito, it’s closer in spirit to a margarita, according to Luttman.

“I would say that cachaca is more similar to tequila than rum,” he said. “It’s more similar to making tequila than it is to making a rum, in the context that they both use fresh juices from the raw material, from the fruit.”

As the caipirinha has gained popularity in many bars, particularly those that hosted viewing parties for Brazil’s World Cup two years ago, some bartenders now mix variations of the cocktail with vodka or sake and add strawberries, oranges or other fruits.

A true caipirinha — cachaca mixed with limes and ice — seems light but requires precision when mixing, said Rafaella Demelo, a Brazilian native and bartender at Bulla Gastrobar, a Spanish bar and restaurant in Coral Gables, Fla.

“It’s a very simple drink but it’s very hard to get it right. Not only do you have to know the amount of liquor to put in it but also the amount of limes to put in it, and the sugar as well,” she said while recently mixing a caipirinha.

Aside from proper amounts of cachaca and white sugar, half a lime should be cut into cubes, “because a caipirinha is not only about the juice of the limes, but also about the bitters, the skin of the limes,” Demelo said.

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Shake the ingredients with ice and pour into a glass without straining.

“It has to be everything you used to make a caipirinha straight to the glass, otherwise you’re not going to have the lime, you’re not going to have the smell,” Demelo said.

Here is a selection of cocktail recipes for cachaca, the sweet, clear liquor that is a signature flavor of Brazil:

Caipirinha

(From Bulla Gastrobar, a Spanish restaurant and bar in Coral Gables, Fla.)

11/2 oz. of cachaca

1/2 a lime cut into cubes

2 bar spoons of white sugar

In a rocks glass, muddle the lime and sugar until well combined. Add cachaca, then pour into a shaker, add ice and shake vigorously. Pour everything back into original glass so that the contents mix with sugar that was left over in the muddle glass. Once combined, pour into a fresh rocks glass and serve with a lime wedge.

Mesa’s Daiquiri Posto Nove

(Bulla’s mixologist, Joel Mesa, has created a daiquiri alternative that replaces rum with cachaca and adds mango to infuse the cocktail with more flavor. “The balance between the sweetness and acidity is just gorgeous, much like this very popular part of Ipanema Beach that this is named after — the closest you can get to there without being there,” Mesa said in an email.)

A thick slice of mango, muddled

1/2 oz. lemon juice

1 oz. simple syrup

1/2 oz. blackberry brandy

1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur

11/2 oz. cachaca

Add the ingredients to a shaker and shake vigorously.

Pour through a strainer into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Amazon Acai Sangria

1 oz. Leblon Cachaca

4 oz. white Zinfandel wine

2 oz. white cranberry juice

1 oz. açai syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass, then shake them all together with ice. Pour into a highball glass, then top with lemon-lime soda and garnish with blueberries and lemon.

Leblon’s Amazonia

2 oz. Leblon Cachaca

2 oz. white cranberry juice

1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur

1/4 oz. fresh lime juice

4 basil leaves

Champagne, to top

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the Champagne, in a shaker.

Shake vigorously with ice and strain over ice into a highball glass. Splash with Champagne and serve.

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