Food & Drink Magazine

Strawberry Basil Caipirinha

By Lucasryden @saborkitchen

Every nation has a signature cocktail. Here in the United States, nothing says national pride like an ice cold Jack and Coke. We bleed Tennessee bourbon and high-fructose corn syrup, and we’re damn proud of it. The same can be said for Latin America. Virtually every region, from rural Chihuahua to Rio de Jainero, identifies itself with a unique alcoholic beverage. Mexicans are tequila snobs (I have a good friend who scoffs at the idea of drinking Jose Cuervo); they won’t touch a margarita unless it’s made with 100% blue agave cactus. Peruvians love their pisco, a grape brandy originally introduced by the Spaniards. And in Brazil, land of beautiful women and samba dancing, the locals get down with a dangerously smooth spirit called cachaça.

Most people have never heard of this distilled sugarcane juice (pronounced kah-SHAH-sah), yet it remains the most popular spirit in Brazil, where close to 400 million gallons are consumed every year. The main difference between cachaça and rum (which is also made from sugarcane) is that the former is made with fresh sugarcane juice, while the latter is usually derived from molasses. Basically, cachaça is Brazilian rum. Just don’t let the Brazilians hear you say that.

strawberry basil caipirinha

Cachaça has gained international popularity in recent years, thanks to the rising availability of quality brands outside Brazil, as well as the addition of the caipirinha (the national cocktail featuring cachaça) to the Official Cocktails list of the International Bartenders Association. The Brazilians are so serious about their cachaça that a law was passed in 2003 to provide the standardization, classification, registration, inspection, production and supervision of drinks. Under Decree No. 4851 of October 2, 2003, a caipirinha is defined as “a typical Brazilian drink with an alcohol content of fifteen to thirty-six per cent in volume at twenty degrees Celsius, obtained exclusively with cachaça, sugar and lime added.”

The Brazilians don’t mess around with their cocktails.  But I’m not a Brazilian and I don’t live in Brazil, so I can do whatever the hell I want with my cachaça.  I can throw strawberries and basil in a highball, mix in some sugar and lime, and call it a California caipirinha.  And that’s exactly what I did this afternoon.  Saude! (“cheers” in Portuguese).

2 oz cachaça
4 strawberries
2 to 3 basil leaves, chopped
1 lime, quartered
sugar, to taste

Directions: In a highball glass, muddle the strawberries, lime, basil, and sugar. Pour into a shaker. Add cachaça and ice. Shake well. Pour into a glass. Bottoms up.

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