What is Aguardiente?
To say the Native Indians of the Americas were into some weird stuff is an understatement, peyote, agave, and their eating habits were all somewhat barbaric. Their drinking habits were no different… And in South America, those customs stayed long after Christopher Colombus arrived on shore. Aguardiente translates to fire water, which most Americans now nicknamed whiskey, so let’s take that comparison but instead of whiskey you have a sugarcane liquor similar to rum but stronger and not as sweet.
As aforementioned, the etymology of the word translates quite literally, but the origins of it date back to Roman tongues. The word “firewater” itself did eventually refer to brandy thanks to the Dutch, but that’s a different story.
Aguardiente is no joke when it comes to ABV, the range can be anywhere from that contain between 29% and 60%. The strength comes from the distillation and fermentation of sugared or sweet musts, vegetable macerations, or combinations of the two. Of course, that is as basic as we can get, and therefore you know what’s coming- many variations. The most common one to describe Colombian Aguardiente is anise flavored.
Much like vodka, Aguardientes may be made from plenty of different based, such as fruits like oranges, grapes, bananas, or apple. There’s also a few that use a grain base such as millet, barley, or rice. Some aguardientes are even made from beets, manioc, or potatoes. There is such a thing as a "true" aguardientes, the ones made from sugarcane, the mix can at times even include some species of bamboo.
Other countries besides Colombia have capitalized and protected their Aguardiente, such as Portugal, which directly puts the Brazilian Cachaca head to head with Aguardiente. Therefore, by a law passed in 1996 Brazil officially defined cane aguardiente as a spirit with an ABV between 38% and 54%, obtained by simple fermentation and distillation of sugarcane that specifically has already been used in sugar production. Whereas Cachaça is considered an alcoholic beverage of between 38% and 48% ABV, obtained by fermenting and distilling sugarcane juice and could contain up to 6 grams in added sugar.
Speaking of sugar...Because Aguardiente isn’t exactly a complex spirit, nor does it have layers of taste, it lacks the compounds that get better with age the likes of whiskey or rum. In the case of Aguardiente, unless other ingredients are added to the mix, all that separates one Colombian aguardiente from the other is the amount of sugar/anise. Experts have compared it to alcoholic Kool-Aid, and that’s why no one is an expert or conneissieur of it.
Some countries call it something else, but if you have ever had Guaro in Costa Rica, you’ve had Aguardiente. Every Colombian state has a monopoly on liquor production and distribution, it can be nearly impossible to find aguardiente brands from other parts of the country than the one you are in.
Apparently, this variety across departments is quickly coming to an end. What’s the issue? Well, decline in sales… Only manufacturersineteen original state-run liquor manufacturers remain, so there is more cross-state-border trade than back in the day. But let’s explore how this firewater came to be and how it has affected Colombia + the world today.
A Brief History:
Since Aguardiente is a kind of sugar cane liquor, it has the same history as it’s many cousins. The discoverer of the Americas, Mr. Christopher Columbus brought back a lot of things he found in his journey to convince the monarchy to colonize the new world. In this great bounty, there was a drink “with a bittersweet taste, which the Quechua Indians called guarapo”.
Guarapo was what the Indians called their alcoholic infusion that eventually Colombians transformed into the tasty, warm and comforting anise flavored firewater eventually known as “aguardiente.”
The alcohol used in its production is obtained from, “virgin honey, yeast, sugar and water, carefully selected products under strict control to achieve raw materials of excellent quality.” According to the few experts that seemed daring enough to try all the kinds out there.
The Liquors and Spirits Factory of Antioquia manufactures and markets highly prized spirits in Colombia and abroad. Its Aguardiente Real 1493 is of the highest quality, made with extra pure alcohols, natural essences of anise, and water. It contains no sugar and rests for years in American oak barrels after being filtered with coconut activated carbons that provide the transparency and supreme quality that characterizes it.
Throughout history, Aguardiente has helped and manufactured success for all of Latin America. It just hasn’t taken off in the states... yet.
In fact, if you bring a bottle of Nectar aguardiente from Bogotá to Medellín you risk in being confiscated from you for being contraband.
Generally, in Colombia most police is corrupt, so don’t get caught because they will confiscate and drink it.
There’s a big worry about traveling to Colombia still to this day, but I assure you it’s much safer now than it has ever been. If you go during the cold months to Bogota, you will need Aguardiente to warm you up.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading and learning about the firewater from Mariana’s homeland.
Thanks for reading, and as always…
Happy Hour City