When it comes to even the simplest of cocktails, proper technique matters.
My husband, Otavio, and I were at a restaurant recently and there was a caipirinha on the craft cocktail menu. A native of Brazil, my husband asked what brand of cachaca they used (low-end but perfectly acceptable) and ordered one.
The drink arrived with two floating slivers of lime. “This is not a caipirinha,” he told our server, who looked surprised because Otavio hadn’t even taken a sip, but smartly did not try to argue.
How did he know the bartender was doing it wrong? No pulp.
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The perfect caipirinha is as minimalist as it is rustic: a single lime muddled in a tumbler with a tablespoon of superfine sugar, 2 ounces of cachaca (kuh-SHAH-sha) — a distilled sugar cane rum — and ice. Vigorously shake for 10 to 12 seconds. It should be cloudy with pulp when poured into a glass.
You can argue about whether to use granulated or superfine sugar. (But never simple syrup.)
You can upgrade or downgrade the cachaca (these days there are many versions to choose from, including high-end, aged ones). Or switch out the cachaca for vodka and make it a caipiroska.
You can opt for cubed or crushed ice.
You can get creative by adding strawberries, mangos or passion fruit juice.
But if you fail to muddle the limes — or remove the limes or strain the juice — it is not Brazil’s national cocktail.
When it comes to a caipirinha crisis, Otavio is generous to a fault. I’ll never forget the time we were on vacation in Louisville, Ky., and stumbled into a fabulous locally owned Persian restaurant.
The bartender had a bottle of cachaca behind the bar but didn’t know what to do with it. Before the English speakers could utter kai-pee-REEN-yuh, Otavio offered to take up a position at the edge of the bar. The bartender didn’t have a muddler (this was before it became a bartending essential tool), so Otavio improvised using the wooden handle of a knife.
This technique (with blade pointed toward the heart) is not recommended, so I asked Edson Ludwig, owner of Porto do Sul, a Brazilian churrascaria in Overland Park, to demonstrate the proper way to make a caipirinha.
No matter how many of these cocktails the restaurant makes in a single night, each one is muddled by hand. Even if you’re making 500 in a night for a wedding. (Edson’s wife, Leonice, got that job last weekend.)
“You have to make it fresh for every single serving,” Edson stresses. “There’s no batching. It’s like a show.”
As Edson shakes the tumbler, he smiles, then pours the refreshing, slightly frothy lime elixir into a glass and hands it to me with a “Saude!” — the Brazilian Portuguese equivalent of “cheers!”
One sip confirms that Edson has perfected the mic drop of caipirinhas.
Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor. Reach her on Twitter at @kcstarfood or on Instagram at @jillwsilva.
Porto do Sul caipirinha
Makes 1 serving
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
2 ounces cachaca (owner Edson Ludwig prefers Velha Beheiro)
Lime wheel, for garnish
Using a sharp knife, cut the ends of the lime off and discard. Balance the lime on a flat side and slice away some of the lime peel following the curve of the fruit. Slice lime lengthwise and remove the center pith. Lay the lime halves on cutting board and slice in small half-moon-shaped slices. Place the lime pieces in the tumbler.
Add sugar and muddle with the limes. Add cachaca and enough ice to fill the tumbler. Shake drink vigorously for 10 to 12 seconds. Pour drink in a short glass and garnish with a lime wheel.
To serve: Ludwig will offer a short straw, if customers prefer to sip, but he says the drink has a stronger aromatic quality if you sip from the rim of the cocktail glass. “It’s my preference. When you do that you get a lot of flavors off the glass. Like wine, air helps.”