In the anything-goes lead-up to Lent, Carnival in Rio is as much about public inebriation and bawdy public displays of affection as it is about extravagant costumes and entertainment. It’s also a time when freelance moneymakers can largely evade municipal guards by dressing up in costumes as fanciful as any carnivalgoer while they sell their homemade alcoholic concoctions unlicensed.
Carnival is early this year – Ash Wednesday is February 10 – which means the city’s sinning is in full swing from now onward. Culinary Backstreets scouted out some of the alternative alcohol options you’ll find on the streets this time of year, ones both classic to hundreds of themed street-party blocos and some that seem to be one-of-a-kind offers.
These are the colorful, yard-long tubes of honey you’ll see strung around vendors’ necks like a snake lady. They’ll often be spiked with cachaça, but ask and you may find some with vodka. Colors tell you the flavor: mint, strawberry or pineapple.
Look for the suffix -lé to know you’re getting a popsicle of sorts. These will usually be a fruit caipirinha (made with cachaça) or a caipivodka. We recommend them for their efficiency ratio between alcohol content and the need to urinate. Pro tip: Follow Sistah Veggie Food Jamaicana to know their whereabouts this Carnival. In addition to mangaranja (mango, orange and ginger) vodkalés, Fernanda and Agatha also serve vegan snacks, like soy, carrot and green onion empadas.
Skol Beats Senses
Skol is the brand of beer that your upper-class friends will scold you for bringing to a party and that sometimes is drunk ironically by hipsters. The new line of Skol Beats Senses in bright blue (lime) and green (lime and green apple) cans has been cropping up at bailes and now during Carnival. Skol told the outlet R7 that Skol Beats Senses “has a beer base and also alcohol from beer.” The blue one is comparable to Smirnoff Ice, while we thought the green one was reminiscent of the ill-fated Zima beverage, or a carbonated apple juice.
Definitely take a shot of this if you see it around – it’s cachaça with cinnamon, as classic as it is smooth and delicious.
During Carnival, three friends from Seropédica, an industrial and mining town about two hours from Rio, are the entrepreneurs of “Gengis Cana” (cana refers to sugarcane, and hence cachaça), selling a top-notch version of the liquor from the town. Açaí com jambu is the beloved purple Amazonian berry with jambu, a green leaf that slightly numbs your lips. Their ginger and lime shot is surprisingly refreshing for the usually throat-firing cachaça.
This one was new to us. It’s lime or pineapple-and-mint caipirinha in a bottle, which we will admit was a little syrupy for our taste. Still, we like a Carnival gimmick as much as anyone, particularly one that comes with an English-language disclaimer: “This product will not cause a climax of sexual excitement.”
Want to know more about what to expect at Carnival? Check out our guide to surviving the festivities in Rio.