MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now from food to drink, and a cocktail that's been shaking things up in D.C. this summer, the Brazilian caipirinhas. And with Brazil playing host to the World Cup in June and July, Washingtonians have been raising glasses of lime, sugar, ice and the Brazilian liquor cachaca all over town. Lauren Landau met up with two local mixologists to learn more.
MR. BABAK PAKRAVAN
We've got two ounces there, and we are going to shake this.
MS. LAUREN LANDAU
Babak Pakravan is head bartender at Ceiba, a contemporary Latin American restaurant in the Metro Center. Babak has been bartending in D.C. since 1997, but before he joined the team at Ceiba, four years ago, he'd never even heard of cachaca.
I had no idea. How would I hear about it, you know. As you go to your neighborhood bar or whatever, and nobody's going to -- back then nobody was like, "Hey, try this cachaca.
He now works with cachaca on a daily basis, mixing up caipirinhas and experimenting by inventing his own cocktails. But what is chacaca?
Cachaca technically is a clear distillate that they get from sugar cane, so that's why they call it Brazilian rum, because rum comes from sugar cane -- most rum comes from sugar cane. But there's no molasses added to cachaca so it is clear. They do an aged cachaca, so that's barrel-aged, but that's more like an after-dinner drink like a cognac or something that you would sip on afterwards.
Last year, the federal government officially recognized the liquor as a distinctive product of Brazil, and Brazil, in turn, recognized bourbon whiskey and Tennessee whiskey as distinctive products of the United States. Since then, the American market for cachaca has expanded -- and so has the stock at Ceiba.
When the restaurant first opened in 2003, it carried only two kinds of cachaca. Now there are seven varieties here, including two barrel-aged versions added just this year. Most of Ceiba's cachaca is sold in caipirinhas, and lately Babak has been making a lot of them.
Cachaca is having a major boom right now and the World Cup is a big catalyst for that. At the end of the day you're talking about some sugar, some lime juice and a very interesting distillate that has a unique flavor. It's not vodka, it's not rum, but if you mix those two sort of together you're in between there. It's a good binder, and it's summer, so it's refreshing.
Caipirinhas are a staple of Ceiba's happy hour menu, and during the World Cup, guests paid just five bucks to sip on the Brazilian national cocktail. Ceiba saw its cachaca sales shoot up by 18 percent.
Before the World Cup, people would see it on the menu and they're like "Oh, what's that? Let me try that." But during the World Cup, thanks to social media, Instagram, Twitter everything, people are very knowledgeable about Brazilian food. We had street food going on here as well, and other Brazilian drinks. Everybody came in here knowing what a caipirinha was, but they had not had it before so they were willing to try it.
He says that element of novelty is driving the caipirinha's surge in popularity, especially with D.C.'s younger crowd.
I know people that are like starting rum collections or wine collections, and as early as 22. You know, back in my day that was unheard of, you know, a 22-year-old didn't think about collecting rums or wines. You know, so, yeah, absolutely. It's a more educated consumer and because of that all these spirits, there's room for everyone.
For the World Cup, Babak created a cocktail called "The Nutmeg," using cachaca that he barrel-aged in-house. The drink was so popular that Ceiba is keeping it on the summer cocktail menu. He says he's seeing more cachaca being used around town, and not just at establishments like The Grill From Ipanema, a Brazilian restaurant in Adams Morgan. He says his colleagues in other bars are doing their best to come up with innovative, creative ways of using the liquor.
Roofer's Union is not a South American place and they had a swirling machine of caipirinhas. And that's how you know that it's in the mainstream, when you go to Adams Morgan and there's a swirling machine of frozen caipirinhas. It doesn't get more mainstream that that.
A few miles southeast of Ceiba, Gina Chersevani is mixing drinks at Hank's On The Hill. The seasoned mixologist -- or mixtress -- says while you can get caipirinhas in D.C., it's not exactly a widespread trend, at least not here in Capitol Hill, where people are more likely to order whiskey than rum.
MS. GINA CHERSEVANI
But isn't it strange that you're in the same city and you think it's all the same pool, but where you are in conjunction to what you do is what you sell.
Where do you think people are ordering caipirinhas?
U Street. More diversity. Like the more they diversify the crowd. I mean, think about. Like U Street is such a great flair of Latin culture, as well as African American, Ethiopian. So they're going to drink more things, you know, more inclined to drink rum, especially the Caribbean bars.
While the average person might be familiar with caipirinhas, when it comes to cachaca, Gina says they don't know if they want it aged or un-aged, and it's not uncommon for people to ask for a caipirinha made with spiced rum, which at that point isn't technically a caipirinha.
Most people order drinks when they come in here and they'll say "I'll have a Manhattan." They don't know what they want in it though. They don't know if they want a rye or a bourbon or, you know, a Rob Roy or whatever. They don't know what they want. They just know that they want that name of a drink.
She says from an educational perspective, it's going to be up to the bartenders to clue people in.
I think that it is a great cocktail and I think it's well-enjoyed. I think it's something you have to ask for, maybe not every bartender is going to have like everything that you need to do it. But the more that the public asks for something, it's more readily available.
Gina would love to see more aged cachacas available in the States. She says having more varieties of liquor available makes mixing cocktails that much better. And it's not a bad thing when it comes to drinking them either. I'm Lauren Landau.
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