India, especially southern India, is almost always warm enough for a nice island cocktail—we don’t need to make our fruity drink and then stare out the window longing for summer because it’s always summer! So, in the spirit of Brazilian nationalism and just in time for the holidays, I present Expat Roberto’s Caipirinha con Rum, aka la bebida que hace querer quitarse la ropa—Yes, I’m aware that is Spanish. Yes, I’m aware they speak Portuguese in Brazil. No, I’m not interested in learning Portuguese.
Why Rum Instead of Cachaca?
The Caipirinha is a traditional Brazilian drink made from cachaca. Mixed correctly, the sugar, lime, and cachaca form a subtly sweet, marginally woody flavored cocktail that is as at home on the beach as in a Brazilian bar. Unfortunately, decent cachaca can be hard to find in India, while average rum is comparatively easy to find almost everywhere. In addition, anyone whose ever woke with a cachaca hangover remembers three things: the rato that fell asleep in their mouth, the rainforest tribal drums beating in their head, and the feeling of eating a slug from the rainforest. But the most important reason for using rum instead of cachaca: pirates drink rum and we are pirates!
Nevertheless, cachaca does provide a more authentic flavor to the traditional caipirinha. Please feel free to substitute the traditional cachaca in place of rum—you will still be allowed into the pirate’s club.
Why Not Make a Mojito?
There is no doubt, the mojito is a fine cocktail. Many an evening has been spent sipping mojito’s from the deck of a seaside bar, staring out across the vast blue sea, wondering if the bottle with the hand written note requesting the Coast Guard not rescue us from our deserted island ever made it into the right hands. But the mojito has three issues: mint, mint and mint.
Mint is not always easy to find, especially in India or aboard a small sailboat or large pirate ship in the middle of the Caribbean. We would sail into port—our skull and crossbones stowed as not to scare the local inhabitants—mosey over to the local spice stand, and walk-away mint-less. If we could find mint, we question our ability to clean it enough for consumption. After all, mint grows on the ground and there is a lot of stuff down there—especially in India. Besides, the more ingredients there are in a recipe, the more likely it is one will be unavailable.
In addition to availability and cleanliness, mint also tastes like mint. Believe it or not, there are people who don’t like the mint flavor. To many, it reminds us of trips to the dentist, biting down on x-ray cards, the plastic cutting into our gums; being poked with a large, metal hook; the gritty grinding of mint-flavored polishing solution as the dentist tells us for the fourth time to spit, which inevitably runs down the side of our mouth and onto our shirt. Nobody wants an unexpected, mint-induced breakdown during cocktail hour.
Finally, mint has a tendency to find it’s way into the least opportune places. As I rub the seam between my two top teeth just west of center, hoping the person across the table will take the hint, I can’t help but stare at the tiny, green, foliage lodged in my companion’s grill. I wonder what will happen during her post-cocktail lunch meeting, when everyone in the conference room is fixated on the same turfy distraction, until overwhelmed, someone grabs the iron hook from their coat pocket, jumps across the table, and gouges the grassy leaf from it’s resting place. Mint just end’s badly.
On to the cocktail.
To make our delightful delicacy, we need some ingredients:
- Rum—I’ll bet you saw that one coming.
- Sparkling Water
- Cocktail glasses of choice
White rum is not a requirement, although it is preferred. In fact, just because a rum is dark rather than clear does not mean it is spiced. On the other hand, the opposite is not true. Spiced rums all seem to be non-white rums. If you’re importing rum in your luggage or picking up from duty free, be sure to avoid spiced rums.
On the off chance you forgot to smuggle rum into India, you’ll be at the mercy of availability. Check the local wine shops and try to find imported Bacardi. It is more expensive, but worth it. IMFL will work, it will just taste a bit different, cause headaches, and may result in blindness—okay, not blindness.
The next ingredient is lime. This is where you want to go Bohemian. Don’t get the green, lime-shaped, pock-marked, plastic bottle of pre-squeezed, concentrated lime juice—LOL, who are we kidding, these aren’t even available in India! Take thirty rupees and head over to the local Ratnadeep for real, fresh limes—or lemons, as they are called in India. We shant compromise flavor to a lack of freshness.
Although it is possible the liquor will kill whatever bacteria might find it’s way from the peel to the glass, it’s probably not worth the risk. Sure, Cipro will cure most of the ills one is likely to contract, but probably not before leaving you dehydrated and promising God, or Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you’ll never drink again if he—or she—will just allow the cool bathroom floor to stop the room from spinning. Wash the limes before juicing.
Sparkling water is next. Regular sparkling water, like San Benedetto or Perrier, is fine. Don’t get tonic water. If sparkling water is unavailable, you can’t go just use tonic water. Sparkling water and tonic water are not the same but different; they are just different. Worst case: add a small amount of filtered water, insert a straw into the glass, and blow to make bubbles.
Sugar is one of the more important ingredients. There are many simple sugar recipes and most require little more than sugar, water and fire—the three ingredients which when combined with yeast gave birth to modern civilization. It is also possible to use agave syrup or honey instead of simple sugar—I actually found agave syrup at QMart once. Agave has a lower glycemic index than sugar, making for a less unhealthy alternative; while honey, when purchased from locally sourced bees, may lesson or eliminate the effects of airborne allergens, such as pollen—in other words, agave and honey may keep your honey healthy.
Appropriately sized glasses are the last part of the recipe. Choose glasses that will allow for about 5 ounces of liquid and a bit of ice. Larger highball glasses work well, as do large tumblers; however, the best glass for the job is a pint glass.
Mixing it Up
To make a single cocktail, thoroughly wash a lime, cutting it into wedges. Place half the wedges into a glass, holding back one small wedge for later. Next, add one-half ounce of simple sugar, or a teaspoon of honey or agave syrup atop the lime wedges. Don’t pull the Indian bartender trick of tearing open a brown, large-grain, raw or tirbinado sugar packet, dumping it into the bottom of the glass, and hoping it will magically dissolve.
Now we muddle. Muddling is simply forcing the sugar and lime to co-mingle, establish the basis for their burgeoning relationship, and eventually make a long term commitment to each other. This requires employing an acceptable use of force—you’ll be able to tell if there was an excessive use of force because the glass will break and the US Department of Justice will open an investigation. There is no need to fret for a muddling implement; most men have exactly what they need—no, you can’t use that!—a screwdriver.
Note: Please clean the screwdriver handle prior to and after use because the sight of one using a dirty screwdriver handle to muddle lime and sugar can be quite disconcerting; plus cleaning your tools is a good habit to develop.
If using a liquid-sugar base, the muddling should only take a minute; but if you decided to disregard the previous advice and go native with the tirbinado sugar packet, it will take some time and effort to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved.
Once its all muddled, you can add the rum—or cachaca, if you are a masochist—leaving the limes in the bottom. This serves two purposes: first, it shows your customer or special someone that you took the time to find fresh ingredients for her elixer of life; second, green is a nice color.
This next step is going to blow your mind. You want to add 1.5 ounces of rum, possibly more depending on personal preference—you heard that correctly, 1.5 ounces. That is at least one shot from the big end of the hour glass-shaped jigger. There was a collective, “Whoa!” as every bartender in India stepped back to assess the 1.5-ounce pour.
A note to bartenders in India: If there are any Indian bartenders reading this right now, allow me to set your mind at ease: It is possible to put more than three-quarters of an ounce of liquor into a mixed drink—I realize this is tantamount to adding an extra head bobble during a conversation, thus throwing the entire exchange into bobbling chaos. What’s more, you can actually add more than 1.5 ounces—Double whoa! Don’t worry, the combination of muddled limes and sweetener will make the rum virtually undetectable. Embrace the concept of adding a little more alcohol and all of your customers will be happier—and may even start tipping.
After adding the rum, stir well and add enough ice such that no less than one inch of space remains between liquid and glass rim. Now add an ounce or two of sparkling water to fill the glass—or use the filtered water plus straw technique. Finally, affix the withheld lime wedge onto the rim and taste—if you are a bartender making this for a customer, please skip that last step. Once it’s perfect, serve it up to the most important person in your life: the customer—or your significant other, or maybe yourself if you are slightly narcissistic.
Another note to bartenders in India: If you are an Indian bartender, I strongly suggest practicing this before serving it to a customer. Mix a drink for yourself and give it a little taste before adding the ice—another collective “Holy crap!” just exploded from every bar in India. Yes, you need to taste your drinks before you start making them for customers. If your religion forbids drinking alcohol, you should not be a bartender; however, jobs being a necessary part of life, as an alternative you can ask someone familiar with tasty concoctions to sample it and provide feedback. If all else fails, give me a call. I’ll come try it and offer suggestions for improvement.
Note that people have different preferences for cocktail sweetness. Some people prefer their drinks with the sweetness of white frosting, while others like a mildly refreshing tipple. Get a feeling for the regular recipe, then add a small amount of your simple sugar mixture until the flavor is right for a sweeter version. Everyone will be impressed when asked, “Would you like your Caipirinha on the sweeter side?”
You’ve just made the perfect Caipirinha con Rhum! Feel proud, bask in the moment, know you are the best! The only thing left to do is to drink your creation and wash away that last conversation with ACT/Fibernet customer service.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is probably planned. Copyright can be found here for my original work.