First, the phonetics: cachaca (ka-SHA-sa); and caipirinha (kai-pee-reen-yah), the official Brazilian national drink which is made with cachaca, muddled lime wedges, sugar and ice.
Then, the reputation, with stories that go something like this: "Started drinking cachaca in Brazil, the next thing I remember is waking up in Peru, married to someone I just met, with the worst hangover of my life."
Cachaca, which dates to the 1500s when it was the firewater consumed by mill workers and slaves in Brazil, has ridden on the tails of trendy Brazilian steak houses into North America, where refined, aged versions of cachaca (such as Leblon, which is distilled and fermented in Brazil and then aged three months in vintage cognac barrels in France, Agua Luca, which is filtered 12 times or Mae de Ouro, which is aged in oak for a year, and sell for $22 to $30 a bottle) are becoming popular in cocktails, sometimes displacing vodka, tequila and rum. It's a far cry from the rotgut versions of cachaca that are used as car fuel in Brazil even today. When not using it as car fuel, the average Brazilian consumes about three gallons of cachaca year.
Although cachaca is often called "Brazilian rum", it's made from cane sugar rather than molasses and so is in its own category. Food and Wine magazine has hailed the caipirinha as the likely successor to mojitos. Leblon president Steve Luttman has said that the upswing in cachaca comes as consumers are getting bored with vodka drinks and interest in Latin culture is on the rise.
"We go through five to 10 cases of cachaca a week," said Joe Tachovsky, the manager of the new Samba Brazilian Steakhouse and the Cabana Room on West Gilman Street. "Some of the rougher cachacas need sugar and lime to make them taste good, but some of the aged cachacas are almost like cognac, they're so smooth and sippable. Mojitos made with cachaca and caipirinhas are becoming much more popular, almost like margaritas."
\ Mint Caipirinha (Brazilian Mojito)
2 ounces cachaca
2 lime slices
5 mint leaves, torn
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
Muddle lime, Mint and sugar in a shaker. Add cachaca and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and pour into a hurrican glass. Garnish with whole mint leaves.
\ Brazilian Rose
2 ounces cachaca
3 ounces guava juice
Splash triple sec
Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a rose petal.
\ Watermelon Smash
1 1/2ounce cachaca
1 tablespoon superfine sugar or 1/2ounce simple syrup
3 pieces of watermelon
Muddle watermelon watermelon and sugar in a shaker. Add cachaca, lemoncello and ice. Shaie vigorously and pour into a rocks glass. garnish with a slice of watermelon.
Recipes: Leblon Cachaca