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Colombian Aguardiente, the Festive 'Fire Water' that Could Burn a Hole Right Through Your Navidad

First Posted: Dec 10, 2013 12:03 PM EST
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Ever wonder what it might be like to be a fire-breathing dragon? Well, if you take a shot of Colombian aguardiente, otherwise known as "fire water," you'll be sure to find out.

It's holiday season and chances are if you're Colombian, or if you know someone who is, you may have had the fiery 'pleasure' of taking a shot of Colombia's distinctive liquor, aguardiente, a clear, anise-flavored liquid made of processed sugarcane that practically burns a hole right through you.

While my family in the U.S. doesn't drink it (maybe because we're part Irish, Scottish and French-Canadian), my family on my Colombian side passes around a tiny copita during holidays or family gatherings as a sign of good cheer. But if you don't drink in moderation, as with any type of alcohol, it can't be good for you or your liver -- or your soul for that matter!

What exactly is "fire water," anyway?

While there are several brands of aguardiente, including Nectar and Aguardiente Antioqueno, Cristal is a popular brand that I have tasted both in the U.S. and in Colombia. 

"From Colombia, in the northwest corner of South America with 700 exotic miles of coastline on the Caribbean and 500 miles along the Pacific, comes Aguardiente Cristal, 100 percent Colombian spirit.

"Cristal is considered the National drink of its native land and has become the largest selling Aguardiente in the U.S. Molasses, trucked in from Colombia's sugarcane fields then mixed with anise. Distillation converts the sugar to alcohol, with most about 60 proof, adding more sugar to give it its trademark sweetness. Industria Licorera de Caldas blends its alcohol with the purest water coming from the Nevado del Ruiz and the best natural anise essence from Europe."

Bottom line, it's a powerful black licorice-tasting alcohol that could either brighten your holidays or burn a hole right through them with a terrible hangover. Luckily for me, despite several trip to Colombia, I have never drank enough of it to find out. 

While tourists and Colombians alike share in the thrill of a shot of aguardiente, Colombia is known for having delicious drinks that are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

"If you should ever find yourself in Colombia, do not forgo the opportunity to sample at least one of the following drinks," SpeakingLatino.com points out. "Your trip would not be complete without this experience, and partaking in a couple of rounds is the quickest way to befriend a Colombian."

According to SpeakingLatino.com, there are six alcoholic drinks, including aguardiente, that you must try when you visit the beautiful country of Colombia (or that you can make in the U.S. -- if you have the right ingredients).

Top 6 Alcoholic Drinks from Colombia:

1. Aguardiente

"This is unquestionably Colombia's national drink. No Colombian celebration (or ordinary Saturday night) is complete without multiple shots of Antioqueño, Nectar or Cristal - Antioqueño being the most popular brand by far.  Every South American country has its own variation of aguardiente, but Colombia might just be the biggest consumer of 'firewater'.  Colombian aguardiente, or "guaro", is derived from sugarcane and flavored with anise.  Its alcohol content hovers around 29 percent, and although it can be found along the length and breadth of the country, it is most popular inland. Inhabitants of the Caribbean coast generally prefer rum."

2. Rum

"Definitely the runner-up for the title of Colombians' favorite alcoholic drink. Local rum is of a pretty high quality, and fairly inexpensive. Native Colombians prefer their rum on the rocks or neat, and Ron Viejo de Caldas or Ron Medellin Añejo are usually the top choices."

3. Beer

"Also known as pola, chela or birra, Colombians enjoy a cold brewski as much as anyone else. There is a wide selection of national beers available, mostly lagers, including perennial classics Águila, Pilsen and Costeña and the more premium Club Colombia. In recent years several micro-breweries have emerged across the country to produce a variety of unique, award-winning craft beers that are definitely a must-try for any connoisseur.  Tres Cordilleras, Apostol and Bogotá Beer Company are three such craft brewers."

4. Refajo

"This delightfully refreshing concoction is made up of equal parts beer and Colombiana soda, a champagne cola somewhat similar to cream soda. Refajo is the preferred accompaniment at any asado (barbeque) or a long, leisurely Sunday lunch."

5. Chicha

"Many South American countries have a variation of this drink, as it is typical of the indigenous peoples of the Andes. In Colombia , it is made from fermented corn and sugar or honey, and sometimes pineapple as well. Consumption is not as widespread as other drinks mentioned in this article; it is mainly consumed in rural areas, but some bars and restaurants in large cities do serve it. It is worth noting that in some areas the corn is ground and chewed in the mouth of the chicha maker, so keep that in mind if you are the finicky type."

6. Canelazo

"Aguapanela (water with melted sugar cane), cinnamon, lime juice, cloves and aguardiente combine to make this delicious hot drink that is the perfect libation for a chilly evening. This beverage is basically liquid comfort. And if you remove the aguardiente from the recipe you can take advantage of its proven benefits as a home remedy against colds. Or you can keep the guaro, it's up to you. Either way, bottoms up!"

SpeakingLatino.com, also offered a list of 5 Non-alcoholic Colombian drinks as well.

So, if you are in a festive spirit and you want to try aguardiente, or "fire water" during la Navidad, do it in moderation, or else you could end up praying for forgiveness for venturing too far into the inferno!

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