In a confluence of good fortune, the World Cup begins today (Group A: Brazil vs. Croatia, Arena Corinthians in São Paolo) and it also happens to be International Cachaça Day. Whether it was serendipity or shrewd marketing that partnered these two happenings doesn't really matter. What matters is that we can cheer on the boys in yellow and blue with Brazil's national drink, the Caipirinha.
The Caipirinha's defining spirit, cachaça, which is a sugar cane distillate, has been the subject of much debate in the rum world. For years, Americans and many others simply tossed cachaça into the rum (specifically rhum agricole) category because it was easy, given that both are made with sugar cane. Brazil, naturally, took offense at this classification. After all, cachaça has been around since the 1500s, about 100 years before rum's arrival.
As defined by Brazilian law, cachaça is a distilled spirit made from sugar cane with 38 to 40 percent alcohol by volume. Currently, according to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the classification of cachaça reads as "a distinctive product of Brazil"; the 2012 ruling, which was made after much lobbying by the Brazilian government, still lists the spirit under the "class designation of 'rum'" but doesn't require it to be labeled rum. (In a suave political move, the agreement also stipulated that Brazil recognize Bourbon whiskey and Tennessee whiskey as "distinctive products of the United States.")
Suffice it to say that, if you enjoy rum, you'll enjoy cachaça. Until recently, the only cachaças available in the States were the industrial style, made in a column still and full of harsh, unrefined flavors. Today, with the upswing in premium-spirits appreciation, high-quality, artisanal cachaça (both aged and unaged) is now easily accessible outside of Brazil. Some of the more mainstream, unaged bottlings, such as Leblon and Novo Fogo, are very smooth and sweeter in profile, but it's also worth seeking out small-batch, aged versions like Avua Amburana, which add complexity to the mix.
Enough with the semantics. Let's get mixing. The Caipirinha is an incredibly easy drink to assemble, requiring just three ingredients - booze, simple syrup and limes. As a mint julep spotlights whiskey's merits, the caipirinha elevates the sweet funk of the cachaça.
Makes: 1 drink
1 lime, sliced
1 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces cachaça (unaged or aged, depending on preference)
1. Muddle the lime directly in a rocks or Collins glass until the juices are released.
2. Add remaining ingredients.
3. Top with crushed ice and give the mixture a stir to combine.
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4. Garnish with a lime slice.
By the way, if a caipirinha isn't in the cards today, fret not. Brazil's National Cachaça Day is Sept. 13. With three months' lead time, you'll have no excuse if you fail to have a bottle on hand to celebrate.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History." Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.