Summer on Ipanema Beach in Brazil. The sand is densely packed with tall buildings and beautiful people. And the people are beautiful because they can afford to be. You see, Ipanema is one of the most expensive places to live in Rio. Ipanema means "bad water" in the Tupi language, referring to the poor fishing there. But because of the aqua blue waters, more surfers and sun worshipers flock there daily to socialize, see and be seen, and of course to drink.
And the drinks of choice in Ipanema? Beer (of course) and Caipirinhas, made from Cachaca, the Brazilian sugarcane brandy that has recently caught fire in North America as a premium alternative to rum.
Wait a minute. Cachaca is distilled from sugarcane? Isn't rum also distilled from sugarcane? So, aren't rum and cachaca the same?
Well, yes and no. Food writer Rob Willey explains:
"[In liquor stores] you'll find cachaca next to rum, because that's what cachaca is, technically. The difference--and it's crucial--is a matter of foundation. They are both made from sugarcane, but most rum is made from molasses (the thick, dark syrup left after the sugar is extracted from the cane), which contributes a rich, sticky sweetness to the final product. Cachaca, on the other hand, is distilled from a lightly fermented sugarcane juice, resulting in a leaner, more aromatic spirit with a tequila-like earthiness...Aged cachaca can take on an astonishing Scotch-like complexity, but for cocktail purposes, you're better off with something minimally aged."
Basically, Caipirinha is a simple cocktail to concoct: Muddled lime and sugar are placed in a rocks (short) glass with crushed ice, then two ounces of cachaca are added, then the drink is shaken and served with a lime wheel. Simple, right?
Well, not really. It seems that Brazil's national cocktail has become embroiled in a controversy over its humble origins. You see, cachaca was originally distilled and consumed by slaves and sugar mill workers as far back as the 1500s. For many years, it was regarded as low-class swill and in fact, as writer Kelly E Carter noted in USA Today, "even today some Brazilians use the cheapest versions as car fuel".
Only recently has cachaca been aged and refined enough to earn cache, but some patrons still regard the liquor with disdain, and as a result, many caipirinhas are now made with vodka instead. This fact has led premium cachaca distiller Leblon to come with the Legalize Cachaca marketing campaign, where they seek to educate the world that
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1. Cachaca and rum are different.
2. Cachaca is Brazil's Noble Spirit, and...
3. Cachaca should be used in all caipirinha recipes instead of vodka or other spirits. Such celebrities as Helio Castroneves and Cheech and Chong have lent their support.
If you wish to participate in Leblon's or anyone else's marketing campaign by trying the caipirinha in Dallas, why not start with an authentic Brazilian churrascaria such as Rafain, Texas de Brazil, or Fogo de Chao? For instance, Fogo offers both a signature Brazilian or fruitier tropical caipirinha, which you may enjoy with an inexhaustible parade of spit-roasted meats such as picanha (top sirloin), lombo (parmesan-crusted pork), or frango (chicken). You will need a robust drink for such a hearty meal, one good enough to sip rather than to pour it in your gas tank.