Liquor Nerd: Head somewhere truly exotic with a classic cocktail

Convincing yourself that you’re in hot and humid Brazil isn’t that hard after a couple of Caipirinhas

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      Perhaps somewhat fittingly, the summer of 2020 started out less than spectacularly in Vancouver. Think of it as some ongoing plan by the great God and creator above—the one who’s spent almost all of this year laughing her ass off at the world and the flaming gong show that it’s become. A world where the only thing that gets you through the day is search for endless cocktail recipes online, classic and otherwise. When that is, you aren’t coming up with your own future-classic cocktail recipes.

      At the risk of stating the obvious, there was plenty to endure in the spring. This includes, but not limited to, the cancellation of the NHL season just as the Vancouver Canucks were on a complete roll with one straight win. And also the continued existence of, in no particular order, Hank Williams Jr., Jared Kushner, Ted Nugent, anyone with the last name Trump, and Satan.

      Then came a classic West Coast Juneuary, which was to say three straight weeks of weather that made you seriously question why you don’t live someplace where it doesn’t rain from dawn to dusk 365 days per year. Like Mawsynram, India. Or Emei Shan, China. Or Cropp River, New Zealand. They should name a classic cocktail after each one of those places, each one of those classic cocktails should come with a miniature umbrella—but November-skies black rather than Tiki-chic festive. And perhaps festooned with cocktail recipes.

      But enough doom and gloom. After a typically grey June, and a decidedly chilly beginning of July, summer finally arrived on the West Coast roughly a month after the official start of the season.

      Finally, it’s like being in Brazil, only without the humidity. Without the humidity.

      Here’s what’s great about summer finally arriving: from now until the weather turns depressing again—we’re going to guess, given the way the year has gone, sometime around September 5—it’s going to be easy to transport yourself to someplace exotic. Because God knows that you’re not going to Brazil anytime soon, especially considering that usually involves a transfer in the States, which basically looks like a real life sequel to Outbreak.

      So transport yourself somewhere hot, humid, and exotic with a homebound South American-themed happy hour.

      As national drinks go, few are more idiotically simple than Brazil’s stupidly delicious Caipirinha. To make this classic cocktail, you need only three ingredients. The big one is cachaça, which is also known as Brazilian rum—as well as unofficial names like “heart-opener” and “tiger breath”. All of which is another way of saying that if you’re the kind of person who passes out in a puddle of your drool after half a wine spritzer, maybe cachaça isn’t for you.

      Whereas most rums available in North America are made from molasses, cachaça starts with fresh sugarcane. That makes it more along the lines of a rhum agricole (which for whatever reason remains almost impossible to find on this side of the border).

      Even though 99 percent of cachaça is consumed in Brazil, you’ll have little trouble finding it in the Great White North. Knocked back straight, cachaça indeed tastes a lot like tiger’s breath, although with sweet and fruity undertones. By law it has to come from Brazil, with the ABV clocking in between 36 and 48 percent.

      Assuming that aged cachaça isn’t in your price bracket, do like the Brazilians: grab a lime and some sugar, along with muddler and ice and you’ve got a Caipirinha (see recipe below). A couple of easy-to-execute steps, and it’s just like being n Rio de Janeiro at Carnival, only without the floats, beads, and endless crush of humanity. Just remember that they go down fast and easy, which is another way of saying that sometimes restraint is important unless you want to wake up with a Christ the Redeemer–size headache.

      Here’s a basic recipe for a Caipirinha. As always there’s nothing to stop you from inventing your own take on the classic cocktail by adding fresh basil, blackberries, or whatever else you’ve got on hand to add to the mix.


      1 lime, cut into wedges
      2 heaping teaspoons sugar
      2 ounces Cachaça 51

      Muddle the sugar and lime in a shaker. Fill halfway with ice, shake, and then pour everything into an old-fashioned glass.

      Mike Usinger is not a professional bartender. He does, however, spend most of his waking hours sitting on barstools.