Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love #3: Aguardiente

Many countries have their own unique, distinctive liquor (sake, ouzo, deadly Czech moonshine, and so on), and Colombia is no different. The ubiquitous drink of Andean Colombia — the one you’ll see in everyone’s hands at a night out at the bar or club, the one that makes an inevitable appearance at every party — is called aguardiente (literally, fire water). Aguardiente (or guaro, for short, if y’all are on a nickname basis) is a clear, anise-flavored liquid made of processed sugarcane. It’s produced either with sugar or without, and typically has an alcohol content a bit north or south of 25%. It is also heinously, ferociously disgusting.

So many ways to poison yourself…

I’ve just insulted probably about 94% of the Colombians I know by dissing their national intoxicant of choice, but I’m sorry. Sometimes you just have to tell it like it is, and aguardiente is nothing but horrible. Despite the best (or worst, depending on one’s perspective) efforts of my friends here, my assimilation does not extend to this terrible creation. As I’ve said on multiple occasions, there are only about four things I don’t like about Colombia: aguardiente is right at the top of that list.

The thing is, any relationship we could ever have was doomed from the start, as guaro made the fatal error of tasting like anise. I have never been able to understand why anyone would willingly ingest anything anise-flavored — from unappealing black licorice to the look-nicer-than-they-taste cookies a well-meaning family friend gives us around Christmas every year, it’s one of the easiest ways I can think of to ruin something that otherwise might be delicious. Want to make a cookie suddenly revolting? Add anise. Want to make me avoid a cake like the plague? Frost it with anise. Want to make me swear off drinking forever? Force me to drink aguardiente (or tequila, but that’s a different story).

My favorite is #3: “Because it’s perfect to drink alone or mixed.” OR NEVER.

So the taste is the primary hurdle, but it’s not the only one. The way drinking is done in most non-beer-based social situations here is that a group of people buys a bottle and then spends the rest of the night taking shots out of little plastic cups that are incredibly easy to accidentally crush in one’s hands. And this doesn’t just happen at bars with tables — if you go out to a club, you’ll see people strolling around passing out shots of guaro like it’s Anise Christmas. To me this seems both illogical and like an invitation for spillage, but nobody put me in charge, obviously. It’s kind of like being back in college, but instead of ending up with terrible-tasting alcohol by necessity or legality issues, we somehow get it by choice (again, definitely not mine). Having shots forced upon me is not necessarily my favorite way to consume alcohol, especially in crowded public spaces — having shots of something that seriously tests my gag reflex forced upon me is probably one of my least favorite ways.

I suspect that most Colombians have a Stockholm Syndrome-type relationship with guaro — since they started drinking it when they were around 15 years old, they’re just used to it by now. Or maybe some of them genuinely like anise — after all, it’s a flavor that shows up in liquors produced in various other countries around the globe, so it’s not like Colombians are the only crazy ones. I just happen to be stuck with them.

Why drink like an adult when you could be using a 1-liter juicebox instead?

The one benefit of the existence of guaro is being able to punk people with it. When I went home for Christmas in December, I brought a few juiceboxes of the stuff (oh yeah, they sell liquor in juiceboxes here. File that under “Awesome Things Colombians Do Correctly”) back with me as “gifts.” My poor, unsuspecting friends thought it was so nice of me to bring genuine Colombian drinking material all the way home for them — until they tried it. Curses were uttered, blame was cast, friendships were called into question, I did a lot of giggling. It was absolutely worth it, but it also didn’t involve me actually consuming any of it. So I guess I’m okay with aguardiente as long as it’s not entering my digestive system.

The point is, if I ever manage to overcome my intense loathing of hot weather (unlikely) and move to the coast, at least 30 percent of my justification will be because they drink more rum there. Now that’s a liquid pastime I support.

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#4. Agua de Panela

#5. Inappropriate Uses of English

#6. Colombia’s Got Talent

#7. Horrifying Jeans

#8. Malls

#9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All the Time

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

11 thoughts on “Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love #3: Aguardiente

  1. You are SOOOOO right about anise flavor. I will never understand how anyone can think it’s a good idea to put something that tastes so demonstrably bad into anything they plan to ingest ON PURPOSE! (Are we related somehow?)

  2. I’ve never tried aguardiente, but I do like the the Middle East version called ‘arak’ or ‘araq’ (~50–63% Alc. Vol./~100–126 proof, sometimes more). It is a clear, colorless, unsweetened anise-flavored distilled alcoholic drink. It is the local beverage in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Israel.

    At least aguardiente has a cool name. Arak comes from the Arabic word ′araq’ ﻋﺮﻕ, which means “sweat”.

    • That’s so interesting! It does seem like anise is a popular flavor for alcoholic drinks around the world — I always think it’s fascinating to see how certain habits/customs/flavors/etc show up in totally distinct and distant cultures. I’ll have to give arak a chance if I’m ever in that region of the world, but given my violent hatred of anise, I’m not sure it’ll be any more successful than aguardiente. Plus, you’re right, the name is somewhat less than appealing.

      If you like arak, though, you should definitely give guaro a try sometime. You can have mine! 🙂

      Thanks for sharing this cool fact. Keep the cross-cultural exchange coming!

  3. Pingback: Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love #2: Giving Unsolicited (Beauty) Advice | a year without peanut butter

    • You clearly have more faith in my assimilation abilities (and power to overcome my hatred of anise) than I do 🙂
      But I appreciate the encouragement!

  4. I’m Colombian and I hate this aguardiente drink from hell. In Colombia it is like a betrayal to not like this drink. It’s worse than peeing on the flag. I totally understand your pain.

  5. It’s disgusting, isn’t it? My boyfriend was adopted from Colombia as a baby, and has been trying to learn more about his heritage. And what better way than buying a ridiculously overpriced imported bottle of this stuff?! He bought one without the sugar (because apparently you get a worse hangover if you have the sugared version), and we both gave it a go. He maintains that he loves it, but the burning sensation, and the frankly horrible taste, have scarred me for life!

    • Oh my goodness, that is TERRIBLE. Considering all of the fantastic things Colombian culture has to offer, I can’t believe he chose guaro! It’s true, though, that the one without sugar leads to a slightly less brutal hangover, but it certainly doesn’t make the taste much more tolerable. Good luck surviving the Great Guaro Adventure – hopefully you can help convince him to try arepas or sancocho instead!

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