It's hard to imagine Rio's social scene without cachaça, a potent sugarcane rum that serves as the key ingredient in Brazil's national drink: the caipirinha.
Cachaça also finds its way into other drinks such as batidas (super sweet mixes of cachaça, condensed milk and anything from chocolate to passionfruit) and caipifrutas (cachaça with ice and your choice of fruit, with or without sugar). The drinks are sold frozen in little squeezable sachets at carnival street parties and at countless street kiosks in the party district of Lapa. They even appear on the menus of even the most chic of Rio bars and restaurants.
Whether you're a partier looking to fuel late-night hedonism or you're just curious about sampling these local drinks, chances are high that you'll be tasting "pinga" – as the rum is affectionately nicknamed – during your time in Rio. And you may well wish to take some of that Brazilian spirit back home with you.
Brazilian sugarcane rum comes in countless varieties — Photo courtesy of Nany Mata
Shopping for cachaça may seem like the easiest task imaginable. It is, after all, available for very few reais on every store shelf. But if you want to buy a bottle of the good stuff, it pays to shop around.
Firstly, what you want to buy depends on how you will use it. If you fancy whipping up a few caipirinhas back home, then it's hard to go wrong with the cheap and easily-sourced 51 brand.
This staunchly popular cachaça may lead to a heavy headache the next day if you drink too much, but its strong taste blends perfectly with lime, ice and sugar, and you won't really need to splash out on anything more upmarket if caiprinhas are your aim.
Kits with booze, glasses and lime-muddling pestle are widely available in Rio, but try to buy these in the supermarkets rather than souvenir shops or at the airport if you want to avoid paying over the odds.
While 51 is good for cocktails, this mass-market brand is by no means a sipping cachaça. For something with a taste that can be savored pure, it is best to look for something aged.
Try brands from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, where brewing of the stuff is taken very seriously indeed. Upscale supermarkets such as Zona Sul will have some award-winning brands, and staff at specialist delicatessens should be able to advise on the best options.
One fun way to combine souvenir shopping with a night out is to head to Leblon's Academia da Cachaça, where you can sample artfully crafted drinks, get advice from staff about top brands and pick up a few bottles of cachaça to take home.