Walk into any decent cocktail bar in Brazil and you will be surprised to find that the original caipirinha made with cachaça is not always the number one choice of some Brazilians. The trendier the bar, the more likely it will be for you to find all sorts of alternatives with similar names, but different “spirit”. See what I did there? “spirit”, “spirit”.
In this article, I’d like to through the most popular alternatives to caipirinha. I like to think of them as the “cousins of caipirinha”, namely caipiroska, caipirissima, and caipisake.
As you may already know, the traditional caipirinha originated in Brazil’s farmlands and was first prepared with cachaça only. Cachaça is an alcoholic beverage that has been widely available in Brazil pretty much since colonial times. As caipirinha began to gain fame and eventually make its way into large cities, people began to experiment with the original recipe. It wasn’t long until several alternatives to the same old cachaça and lime mix began to appear.
Brazil has always been blessed with a huge variety of tropical fruits, so naturally, people began to muddle in everything from strawberries to watermelons to passion fruit. As foreign liquors like rum, vodka, and sake began to pour into the Brazilian market, it was all too natural that they too began to find their place as an alternative to the traditional cachaça.
So now that you know how everything more or less began, let’s take a look at what these “new” caipis are all about.
Caipiroska also knows as caipivodka is a version of caipirinha made with vodka instead of cachaça. This drink is very common in more urban nightclubs and parties and probably arose from the difficulty of finding a good old cachaça in large cities. Yes, my friend. Even in Brazil, it is sometimes hard to find that quality cachaça that really gives pleasure to the drink. If you have already been to Brazil and tasted a premium handmade cachaça, then you know what I am talking about.
I remember once when I was visiting a small rural area of Minas Gerais and was invited to try their very own regional cachaça. I was sitting across the table from the person who popped the bottle open. Within seconds, I could already smell the sweetness in the air. You don’t get this kind of aroma with Pitu or 51 or Velho Barreto. As a matter of fact, these brands are considered very low grade in Brazilian and nobody really has pleasure in drinking them.
Due to the fact that vodka mixes very well with several fruit pulps, caipiroska comes in several variations of color and flavor. The term caipiroska, which adds a Russian twist to caipi, is registered by Smirnoff.
The cocktail caipirissima is another variation of the well-known caipirinha. The difference between the cocktails caipirissima and caipirinha is found only in the main ingredient where we use rum instead of cachaça to implement the recipe.
The cocktail probably got its name from a popular Bacardi advertisement, which dates back to the 70s. They were the first to use and register the term caipiríssima to refer to caipirinha made with their rum. This was a clever way to gain the hearts of the many caipirinha drinkers all over Brazil, but to understand why you would need to know a bit of Portuguese.
In our language, we use certain suffixes that convey the idea of dimension. Usually, the sufix -inha (feminine) and -inho (masculine) conveys the idea of small. So, a caipirinha is a small caipira. A casinha is a small house (casa). Now, the suffix -íssima (feminine) or -íssimo (masculine) is superlative. Primeiríssimo, for example, means the very first one. Caipiríssima then sounds like it is the best or greatest of all caipis.
By now you are probably already getting the hang of this naming method, right? I guess it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that caipisake a.k.a sakerinha is the variation of caipirinha using sake instead of cachaça.
Most foreigners don’t know this (and I bet you didn’t either), but Brazil is home to millions of Japanese descendants and the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil in 1908 and according to the statistics, as of 2000, there were between 1.4 and 1.5 million people of Japanese descent in Brazil. The largest concentrations of Japanese people in Brazil are found in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.
About 15 years ago, as the financial situation began to increase rapidly in Brazilian cities, people began to welcome all sorts of new habits like eating foreign foods and so on. There was a boom of sushi bars everywhere, which appealed especially to the population in coastal cities, like Rio de Janeiro. It was also around this time, that people began to prepare the first caipisakes and a sort of “elite” caipirinha. This was mainly due to the fact that these caipirinha were first served in sushi bars and japanese restaurants, which were considered too expensive for the masses.
Despite the wide variety of sake labels available in the Brazilian market, many bottles are imported from Japan and the U.S. Regardless of the brand (and price), the specialist Celso Norio Ishiy recommends the type Honjozo, which contains distilled alcohol added to the drink. According to Ishiy the taste is more like the original caipirinha, made from cachaça.
When choosing a sake, price is definitely an issue. Investing too much in a super-premium sake to make the drink can be a waste of flavors and aromas.
“When mixed with fruit, sake tends to lose its basic properties. But on the other hand, the headache the next day will be lower”, laughs Ishiy.