When creating a new cocktail recipe, inspiration is everywhere, and bartenders often draw on the large array of classics that have come before. For Ross Simon, Bitter & Twisted owner and bartender, the inspiration for his latest menu addition came from a beloved Brazilian liquor, four iconic drinks, and a Duran Duran song.
Her Name Is Rio (you’ll be forgiven if you start humming at this point) began with cachaça, a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice, which is the most popular hard liquor in Brazil. “We love our cachaça. We use Novo Fogo, which is fair trade and organic. It's really clean, very fresh, kind of grassy, very sugarcane-esque," Simon says. "With any drink that we do, we want to highlight the base spirit,” he says. “Nothing does it better than a caipirinha.”
If you’ve had cachaça before, chances are, it’s been in a caipirinha. The drink of muddled lime and sugar, ice, and cachaça is the national cocktail of Brazil. Legend has it that the tipple was introduced in the early 1900s as a remedy for Spanish flu, and the original version is said to have also contained honey and garlic.
At this point, you might be wondering if cachaça is similar to rum, as both are derived from sugarcane. While there are some similarities, the main difference is that rum is usually made from molasses, while cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice which is fermented and distilled.
As with any spirit, there are craft and mass-produced options out there. “You’ve got these industrial-type cachaças which are very beefy, and they're quite hard to approach,” Simon explains. "But now you've got these craft cachaças that still have the essence of the basic elements of how it should taste, but they are a lot smoother, they are a lot more refined, and there's a little bit more love going into them. When you find a great spirit, you definitely want to highlight it.”
With the caipirinha as his base, Simon called on classic mojito mint, borrowed the bitters from a Queen’s Park Swizzle, and, inspired by a more contemporary classic, The Bramble, he threw in some blackberry-flavored créme de mure.
The result is a completely new drink, and though it pays homage to its influences, Simon added a new element all his own. “We've actually made a blackberry compote to go on top, which is quite delicious on toast as well,” he says. The name? Well, you no doubt are still humming the inspiration for that.
This weekend, order a Rio at Bitter & Twisted, or try your hand at making your own.
Her Name Is Rio
Created by Ross Simon
1 pint blackberries
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
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1.5 ounces Novo Fogo cachaça (a well-appointed liquor store should either have this or be able to order it for you) 8-10 mint leaves
1 ounce fresh lime juice
0.75 ounces cane syrup (Simon uses Monin, but you could make your own simple syrup)
Splash of soda
0.25 ounces créme de mure
4 dashes each of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters
Add blackberries, sugar, cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon of water to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries become soft and release their juice, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks. Set aside and cool while mixing the cocktail.
Add cachaça, mint leaves (reserve one for garnish), lime juice, and cane syrup to a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Agitate with a swizzle stick (if you don’t have a swizzle stick, you can use a bar spoon, or any long spoon). Add soda. Recap with crushed ice. Top with bitters, a drizzle of créme de mure, blackberry compote, and a fresh mint leaf.