Luke DeCock

Bom dia: A tribute to the caipirinha — DeCock

Ah, the caipirinha, the signature drink of Brazil. Tasty. Refreshing. And dangerous.
Ah, the caipirinha, the signature drink of Brazil. Tasty. Refreshing. And dangerous. ldecock@newsobserver.com

This morning blog is a late-morning blog in part because of its subject. Which is to say, a caipirinha is a dangerous thing.

I've avoided writing about the caipirinha because it's about the most cliched thing to write about in Brazil, but I've had enough of them over the past two-plus weeks that I feel qualified to write about it as a local, not a tourist.

The caipirinha, for the unaware, is the signature drink of Brazil, made with cachaca, a sort of rum made from sugarcane. You muddle limes and sugar, then dump in the cachaca. A great deal of sugar. Enough sugar to cover up the taste of the cachaca, which is basically lighter fluid with a less bitter aftertaste.

I had one for the first time many years ago at the bar of a Brazilian steakhouse in Denver after covering a Rockies game. A veteran writer and world traveler insisted I try one. So I had one. And I had another. And then I got off my stool and my knees buckled. There's an unbelievable amount of alcohol in a caipirinha, but the lime and sugar do a good job of disguising that fact. Everyone seems to have that experience with their first caipirinha or two.

Years later, when you could only buy cachaca in one-liter bottles and therefore not in North Carolina because of our ridiculous liquor rules, I grabbed a bottle in duty free coming back from somewhere, back when you could still carry a bottle onto a flight, and tried to make caipirinhas at home. They were undrinkable. The key, as I learned my first night in Brazil, is to use far more sugar than you'd ever think necessary. (They now make it in 750-ml bottles suitable for ABC sale.)

So you don't want to go crazy with these things. If the booze doesn't get you, the sugar will. You probably get a week's worth of calories in a single glass. (At least there's a little Vitamin C from all the lime wedges at the bottom of the glass.) After two, it's usually a pretty good idea to switch to beer – which in Brazil is served invariably and improbably cold. On your last night, it's probably OK to have a third caipirinha. I witnessed this Monday night. I assume my colleague made it out of the country, but he may still be asleep in his room.

Tuesday night, after a long, long evening at the track stadium -- where Knightdale’s Ronnie Ash stumbled at the last hurdle within sight of a medal, then handled his misfortune with poise and grace -- and an hour-long ride back to the hotel with six people crammed in our driver Wagner's very small car, a few of us went out for a late-night/early morning bite at the beach. I'd had a decent lunch but all I'd had the rest of the day was a pao de queijo – the ubiquitous cheese-stuffed rolls – and a bag of potato chips.

So I had a much-needed caipirinha when we sat down, and then a file mignon parmigiana, which is not what we would call filet mignon, but more of a chicken-fried steak parmesan, and then I decided to have a second caipirinha, because how many chances do I have left to have a caipirinha on the beach at 2 a.m.? (Also, I forgot to take a picture of the first one for this blog.) Which, along with the fact that it takes 30 minutes to log into our system and post something, is why this is a late-morning blog instead of a morning blog. (I still went for a run on the beach, as I pat myself on the back.)

My time in Brazil is getting short now. Five more nights. I still haven't been to the top of Sugarloaf or Corcovado to see Cristo Redentor. I hope will have time. But I'll definitely miss the caipirinhas. I don't think I could ever bring myself to dump in enough sugar to make them drinkable, and I'm not sure they'd taste right with agave nectar, although I guess I'll have to try.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

  Comments