When families and friends gather in Colombia, out comes the bottle of aguardiente, the country’s locally distilled anise-flavored alcohol made from sugar cane. And before the evening is over, not one drop will be left, says Janeth Palacio Barrera, a Colombian-born Spanish teacher who lives in Chicago with her family.
”You keep drinking until the bottle is gone. If you open a bottle with family and friends, that bottle must be finished,” adds Janeth. “It’s a drink for celebration, for fiestas, for birthdays, for Christmas time. If there is a fútbol game, a Friday night with friends, la aguardiente no falta.”
She also offers this been-there tip: Make sure you also drink lots of water: aguardiente is a stiff bebida, about 29% alcohol. Even though it tastes sweet, like licorice—a bit like Greek ouzo or French pastis—when non-Colombians try it, ”they usually find it too strong, at first. Sabe súper fuerte,” says Janeth.
Aguardiente is typically taken neat: no ice, no garnish. In restaurants, it’s sometimes served with lime, salt and slices of green mango biche (unripe mango with salt and lime). ”We drink it like tequila. You are served a little in a small copita or glass. Like a shot. And you follow with it a sip of water. It helps with the bitter aftertaste,” explains Janeth, who grew up in Medellín. Every region in Colombia has its locally popular aguardiente and hers is Aguardiente Antioqueño, one of the best known brands at home and here in the U.S.
Typically, aguardiente might be served after a nice, big Colombian meal with family and friends over traditional dishes like fried mojarra or pescado frito, fried-plantain patacones con hogao tomato sauce, and flan de leche for dessert. It signals the end of the feast, sipped as a digestif. Abuelos and abuelas have also been known to prescribe a medicinal shot of aguardiente when a family member is feeling under the weather.
For Colombians and non-Colombians who want to sample just a little aguardiente without the morning-after guayabo or hangover that can come from drinking it straight all night long, consider making this aguardiente sour cocktail. The strong anise flavor is diluted and sweetened with lemon juice, simple syrup and half a frothy egg white. It’s light and delicioso.
No matter how it’s served, Janeth says she makes sure to keep aguardiente at the ready in her home, always. “Si, si. Siempre hay botella,” she grins.
Ready to Make a Colombian Aguardiente Sour Cocktail?
Photo: Michelle Ezratty Murphy