I'm fired up for the World Cup, and you should be, too, even if you, like me, don't know shit about soccer. Or make that especially if you don't know shit about soccer. The beauty of The Most Popular Game on Earth™, at least for the open-minded neophyte, is that it's so breathtakingly easy to follow: a basic scoring system, precious few stoppages or substitutions, and in the World Cup at least, you get to root for or against an entire nation all at once.
So why not root for Brazil? Beaches, jungles, a female president named Dilma, a mellifluous and outside-the-box primary language... what's not to love? Brazil also happens to be the third-most beer-drinkingest country in the world, trailing only China and the U.S. (by total consumption, that is; Brazil's a respectable 24th per capita), but it's still pretty tough to get Brazilian beer in the U.S. You'll come across black and beautiful Xingu here and there, but I couldn't find anything else I really enjoyed, despite living in an area with a relatively high Brazilian population. The few other Brazilian brews I was able to track down were thin and watery, and had likely been on the shelf since the last World Cup.
But the World Cup is a big drinking occasion, at least as practiced by my sportocultural tour guides, a/k/a English and Irish guys who go to bars at 8 a.m. on Saturdays year-round to yell at the TV so as to be in top form (soccer term) when the World Cup finally rolls around. So as the world's biggest sporting event kicks off today, you could go Ugly American and drink Budweiser (which is owned by a half-Brazilian company these days, joke's on you) or Jack Daniel's or whatever the gross hell you want, but wouldn't it be nicer to instead embrace the true spirit of the World Cup by sucking down the host nation's signature cocktail, the strange and delightful caipirinha?
It's pronounced "ki-pe-REEN-ya," and it's made with cachaca; cachaca is pronounced "kah-SHAH-sah," and it's made from distilled sugarcane juice. Cachaca differs from rum in that most rums are made with molasses, and also in that it's the special Brazilian designation for a distilled sugarcane spirit, and why aren't they allowed to have their own thing, you know? It also tends to be both funkier and fresher, retaining all the vibrant sweetness of the sugarcane while augmenting it with murky, earthy notes that provide more balance than you'll find in the average white rum.
Cachaca's been made in Brazil since the Portuguese brought sugarcane over from Madeira in the early 16th century. These days some of it is aged in wood (usually oak) barrels to produce a smoother, more complex spirit suitable for sipping, but most of it is churned out young, white, and feisty for use in fruity drinks, of which the caipirinha is the undisputed king.
Caipirinha takes its name from caipira, local slang for a country bumpkin. This is somewhat ironic, because the simplest way to describe a caipirinha is to note its resemblance to a high-class daiquiri. Both drinks start with unaged sugar-based liquor and lime, but the Concourse's official World Cup Caipirinha is made richer and more interesting by replacing the daiquiri's simple syrup with brown sugar. Make one like so:
Put about a teaspoon of coarse brown sugar in the bottom of a rocks glass, add three or four lime wedges, and muddle it all together. If you lack a muddling stick, like a decent person probably ought to, you can bash it around with the back of a spoon or whatever other tool you use to inflict blunt-force kitchen trauma. You really do need to work it over a bit, though, to get the lime juice out and started on dissolving the sugar.
Then simply add ice (crushed if you can swing it) and two ounces of cachaca. The brown sugar will make it look a little grittier than a pretty little daiquiri, but you go to school to learn, not for a fashion show. Suck your first one down quick, just to get your bearings, and then adjust the recipe to suit your preferences—lemon, honey, tropical fruit—and sip slowly but with intent as you embrace your worldly side.
See? Soccer's awesome!
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.
Images by Sam Woolley, photos via Shutterstock