Caipirinha – Leblon style

Over at Cachaçagora, Phil scored an interview with Tony Abou-Ganim, who is well-known in the world of mixology and also as a consultant for big-named brands such as Leblon Cachaça. Click the link above to read the interview in full and click play on the video below (which is included within the Cachaçagora interview) for a few tips on how to make great caipirinhas and batidas (ba-chee-dahs) from cachaça

I’m beginning to think I should work for Leblon as I’ve had many run-ins with the brand on various levels. I bought a bottle right when it came on the market in the US and I know a Leblon brand ambassador in São Paulo, among other encounters.

It’s Elementary, My Dear Caipira

Discovering the Caipirinha 
Author: Jô Soares
Translation: Clifford Landers 

It was all recorded by the Brazilian writer Jô Soares. Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson visited Brazil in 1886. He had been invited by Emperor Pedro II, at the suggestion of Sarah Bernhardt, who was in Rio de Janeiro in the midst of her grand tour of Latin America. A precious Stradivarius violin had been stolen from the boudoir of one of emperor’s mistresses and Holmes was summoned to solve the mystery. By the time he arrived, Rio was beset by a serial killer. His deductive powers did not lead him to find the killer; he was much befuddled by the tropical voluptuousness of Rio de Janeiro during the Belle Epoque. He did, however, discover other things. 

“If you’ll permit me, Mr. Holmes, the best medicine for this morning-after sensation is a good dose of cachaca.” 

“Cachaca? What the devil is that?” 

“It’s a type of rum made from sugarcane. A very smooth drink, delicious. One dose will be enough for your complete recovery. In fact, I’ll go with you. I’m feeling a bit poorly myself this morning.” 

“Saraiva, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to give Holmes cachaca at this hour, injected Mello Pimenta. 

“Nonsense, my dear Mello Pimenta. I’m sure this venerable remedy will make our English friend into a new man,” the doctor assured him. 

The four men went to a bar at the corner of Riachuelo Street. Saraiva, with his enviable alcoholic experience, ordered two servings of the best rum in the house and downed the contents of his glass in a single swallow. When Dr. Watson saw the transparent liquid, which gave off a very strong smell of alcohol, he inquired what the drink was. 

“Nothing to worry about, Watson, just a rum made from sugarcane. Professor Saraiva assures me that it has excellent curative properties,” translated Holmes for his friend. 

“I don’t know, Holmes. From the smell, it looks to me like something quite strong. Maybe it’d be better not to drink it neat,” he advised. 

“What should I do then–add some water?” 

“I think some fruit juice would be better. Orange or lime. They’re excellent specifics. We even know of their undisputed properties in combating scurvy.” 

Sherlock turned to the owner of the bar. 

“My friend here is suggesting that I put a bit of orange juice or lime in the drink. Have you by any chance got either of these fruits?” 

“I have limes,” answered the proprietor, intrigued, his eyes never leaving the hat and the Northeasterner’s sandals that the doctor was still wearing. 

Watson added, “Maybe it would also be good to throw in some ice and sugar, Holmes, to compensate for the heat produced by the alcohol.” 

Sherlock Holmes transmitted the doctor’s demands. The bar owner went to the end of the counter and told his employee to bring the materials requested. Watson cut the lime into four parts and placed two pieces in the glass along with the sugar. He then proceeded to crush the slices with a spoon, saying, “To be on the safe side, it’s best to put the segments in whole and squeeze.” 

When he finished the operation, he added a few pieces of ice and handed the curious potion to the detective. 

“All right, Holmes, now I think you can drink it without danger.” 

From the end of the bar, the employee and the proprietor looked on in fascination. The young barman asked, “Boss, what language are they speakin’?” 

“Hanged if I know. To me it’s Latin or the devil’s own tongue.” 

“And what’s that concoction they’re mixin’ up?” 

“I don’t know, something invented by that caipira there,” he said, pointing to Watson’s cowboy hat and using the Brazilian term for a hick. 

“Which hick, the big one?” asked the young man, indicating Sherlock Holmes, who was dressed all in white. 

“No, the big caipira is just drinking it. The one who made it is the little hick, the caipirinha,” replied the owner. Thus was baptized the exotic mixture that is Brazil’s national. 

Reprinted from A Samba for Sherlock, by Jô Soares, [c] 1995, Companhia das Letras, Sao Paulo.

The Barack Obamas of Brazil

I was approached by PBS/Frontline to see one of their documentaries and if I liked it, to write about my thoughts on it here. The piece is called Brazil: The Obama Samba and runs at a little over 12 minutes and covers an aspiring Brazilian politician who runs under the name Barack Obama. The story that accompanies it, is a summary of the video documentary itself (minus the first paragraph). 

Personally, I believe the only real change that will occur in this country (the USA) will come as a result of the people rising up and defeating the system, but I’ll run with the story for its Brazilian connection and for the fact that the idea of change and hope (or perhaps more specifically, the Presidential speech writer’s idea of it) is ultimately a good one. 

 

Here’s the beginning of the story (that accompanies the documentary), for which I would like to offer a few corrections and comments. I can’t help it. I’m a writer. 

“Brazilians love to mix things up — never afraid to grab hold of an idea and incorporate it seamlessly into their constantly evolving culture. Take their national drink, the caipirinha, add fruit juice, and you have a caipifruta (try guava, passionfruit, or kiwi). And samba, the most Brazilian of dances, is itself a mix of African rhythms and European melodies. In Rio, they put a hip-hop beat to it, and call it “funky.””

I understand the initial paragraph is an opener to the rest of the story, but I have a few suggestions as I have a hard time seeing Brazil misrepresented. Caipifruta isn’t what the majority of Brazilians (if not the entire population) call a caipirinha with fruit. They call it a ‘caipirinha de (insert fruit here)’ such as the caipirinha de maracujá. The next correction is that in Rio, samba isn’t mixed with hip-hop and then called “funky.” Funk Carioca, as I have written about here, is something all together different, and so is the Brazilian hip-hop movement. Those two things being said, lets get on to the documentary! 

 

Brazil: The Obama Samba

Cachaça – Sweet Water

General Info.

Cachaça (Kuh-shah-sah) is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Cachaça is denomination of origin, in other regions of Brazil it is known as “aguardente“, “pinga” or other names. Cachaça is mostly produced in Brazil, where 1,500 million liters (396 million gallons) are consumed annually (roughly eight litres per head), compared with 15 million liters (3.96 million gallons) outside the country. Cachaça is the product of the distillation of fermented sugarcane juice, with its alcohol strength between 38% and 48% by volume. Up to six grams per liter of sugar may be added.

Cachaça is often said to differ from rum in that it is made from sugarcane juice while rum is made from either molasses or sugarcane juice then aged in oak barrels.

1.3 billion liters of Cachaça are produced each year. Only 1% of this production is exported (mainly to Germany). Outside Brazil, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks, with the caipirinha being the most famous cocktail.

 

My favorite brand of cachaça happens to be Espírito de Minas (pictured below) from the state of Minas Gerais. Great tasting and as smooth as can be.

History

Cachaça was invented by the first Portuguese settlers of Brazil, in the region around the town of São Vicente, sometime between 1532 and 1548. Workers at local sugar mills first discovered that the sugarcane juice (garapa), cooked and left standing, would “sour” (ferment) and turn into a mild alcoholic beverage. The product, disparagingly named cagaça (something excremented), was consumed by slaves, as a cheap substitute for an Indian alcoholic beverage called cauim. Soon someone had the idea of distilling it, and thus cachaça was born.

Cachaçarias (Cachaça distilleries) multiplied through colonial Brazil during the 16th and 17th centuries. Portugal eventually took notice and, in order to protect the market for Portuguese-made grappa, tried several times to outlaw the manufacture and consumption of the new spirit. In 1756, after a century of failure to suppress it, the Crown gave up and levied a tax on cachaça. This tax brought substantial revenue to the Treasury, and contributed to the reconstruction following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami.

Currently there are more than 4,000 different brands of cachaça available in Brazil. Early in its history it was consumed mainly by Africans, peasants, and members of the lower class. As is often the case, elitists considered it a low drink, unfit for exclusivist bars and tables. However, the finer points of the product gained wider and wider appreciation, and it is now a very popular drink, considered by some to be in the same class as whiskey and wine. In the country’s largest cities there are many bars specialized in cachaça , offering hundreds of different brands, some of them very expensive. The most prized brands are produced in Minas Gerais. The Brazilian government and producer associations have recently acted to promote the export of cachaça.

Mixed Drinks

Caipirinha

A cold cocktail made of cachaça, limes, and sugar. It is the most famous Brazilian cocktail, and carries the meaning of “small hillbilly”. The unique combination of sour (lime) and sweet (sugar) with the strong taste of cachaça makes its character. Additionally, a caipirosca is a caipirinha made with vodka, not cachaça. Fruit caipirinhas are also popular, such as the caipirinha de maracujá (passion fruit).

Quentão

This is a hot drink that is traditionally prepared in Festas Juninas (June Festivals). Cheap wine is the base ingredient, with cachaça being added to increase the alcoholic level, with ginger and spices added in. It has a strong scent, a sharp taste and a sudden effect. People often claim (inaccurately) that the boiling will make much the alcohol evaporate, this avoiding the social stigmatization associated with drinking cachaça drinks. The name is the augmentative form of the adjective that means “hot”, roughly translating into “the very hot (drink)”. For reference, imagine an alcoholic hot apple cider!