Aguardiente is a Spanish word that translates roughly to ‘liquor’. A more literal translation would be along the lines of ‘fire water’ and could also mean ‘rotgut’ in certain contexts. Every time drinking would come up in conversation with Colombians, they would refer to aguardiente as the tequila of Colombia, though admittedly that may be because of the way that I steered the conversation.
Clearly aguardiente is not tequila. I’m a bit curious why many Colombians insisted that this was their version of tequila. What does that say about tequila? Is it viewed as fire water or rotgut or rather, is this their liquor of national pride?
In the case of one of the most well known and ubiquitous brands of aguardiente in Colombia, Aguardiente Antioqueño, it is made from sugar cane and flavored with anise. It contains 29% alcohol by volume and comes in a traditional variety as well as a ‘sin azucar’ or without sugar version (that’s not how alcohol works though is it?). It is not unpleasant or harsh and I was quite fond of its ouzo like taste but aguardiente seems to me to be more like an digestive or aperitif than a proper shot that I would drink a lot of and I never really warmed up to the drink in a way that would prompt me to buy a bottle or several. Agave distillates remain the go-to even at a higher cost.
With all of that said, I was extremely surprised to find a country that is absolutely full of agave and nobody (that I was able to find) distilling agave. Claiming that aguardiente is the Colombia’s version of tequila and yet not distilling any agave is a mystery to me, but that’s another story.