What is the most popular Colombian tipple?
Aguardiente is the answer, even though we produce a fair amount of rum too.
“We want people to think of guaro when they think of Colombia, the same way one thinks of mezcal to Mexico, or cachaça to Brazil.” Guaro – the colloquial name for aguardiente, a derivation of the Quechua word for sugar cane juice (guarapo) – is Colombia’s national spirit, a unique flavour with its soft notes of anise layered over tropical fruit, and a perceivable sweetness. The name aguardiente loosely translates from Spanish to English as “fire water”.
No Colombian celebration is complete without multiple shots of aguardiente. “This spirit embodies Colombia’s way of life, its music, culture, and traditions,” aguardiente has no social class, it is a fantastic unifying element in society. Each department of the country used to have their own distillery or have the rights to choose which brand was sold in the area. The revenue generated from the tax on sales of alcohol and tobacco were used to fund the education and other public services.
Classic aguardiente, distilled from cooked sugarcane, typically clocks in around 24 to 29% ABV, and is consumed unadulterated, from a shot glass. Aguardiente is flavoured with aniseed and the amount of flavouring depends on the brand.
In the last two decades distilleries have become very sophisticated and the marketers have launched a sugar free aguardiente, which (supposedly) makes you less hungover. This assertion can be very controversial, but the marketers won and the country carries on partying!
I was brought up with Aguardiente Cristal and have used it as a base for many cocktails. It adds an extra intriguing taste to classical cocktails like caipirinhas and mojitos, and it goes very well with tropical fruits such as mora and lulo.