The national drink of Brazil, the caipirinha (kye-pee-ree-nah) has had such a powerful attraction for Brazilians that it almost brought the Ford Motor Company to a screeching halt. After Henry Ford discovered that the low labor output among his Brazilian workers was due to their high caipirihna input, he outlawed the drink at Fordlandia, his Brazilian factory-village that processed the rubber plants used to make his vehicles’ tires.
While the caipirinha hasn’t yet had the same impact in the U.S., Grant Grill barman Bruce Tilley is doing what he can to help the cause.
“I encourage people to try a caipirinha,” he says with a mild shrug. “If they like it, they like it; if they don’t, I make them something else.”
The caipirinha’s slight edge, Tilley tells me, comes from the base liquor in the drink — cuchaca (coo-sha-sah), a distillate of fermented sugar cane. Its taste and versatility, he says, rests somewhere between rum and tequila.
“You can tell cuchaca is a cane beverage because of the sweetness to it,” he says, “but it definitely has a cleaner taste than rum. It is hard to describe, and because it’s such a simple base liquor, like vodka, whatever you put into it is how it’s going to taste. It’s a sponge that way.”
Because of cuchaca’s flexibility, Tilley says, the imagination can take the lead without fear in experimenting with the drink.
“The basic caipirihna is made with lemon and lime,” he says, “but you can pretty much choose whatever fresh fruit you have to add to it. When we first introduced the drink, we included an infusion of mixed berries — raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. It almost wound up tasting like a pinot noir — but obviously a pinot noir with a much stronger alcohol content.”
Kitchen Proof: Whether you stick with the straight lemon-and-lime version (which I prefer) or add raspberries or other fruit, the sweetened fruitiness cancels the cuchaca’s slight diesel taste while retaining and complementing the liquor’s natural sweetness.
Grant Grill’s Caipirihna
- In an old fashion glass, muddle:
- 1 fresh lime, halved or quartered
- ½ fresh lemon
- halved or quartered
- (optional: 4–5 fresh raspberries)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- Fill glass with ice and pour:
- 2 oz. cuchaca
- 1 heavy splash simple syrup
- Top with soda water.