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The Drinking Bucket List: Fire Water of Colombia

Monday, July 28th, 2014   11:28 pm |  Category:   Life, Retirement locations   |   Add Comment  
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Retirement Bucket ListBe a peasant, campesino, paisano, paysan or peon. Macerate some fruit (or rice, or grape stems, or sugar cane) in an old jar, let it ferment, filter it through a cloth, maybe purify and extract the alcohol by distilling, add botanicals for color and / or flavor or not, and you might just wind up with Guaro! A checklist of these sorts of liqueurs, (other than wines of course) and the places to drink them can form a sort of bucket list for you. Mine so far includes scrumpy in the Midlands of England, apple jack in Ohio, Calvados and cidre in Normandie, Slivovitz in Krakow, Sake in Hawaii, Grappa in my Sicilian father-in-law’s basement in Brooklyn, mealy potato vodka in Warsaw, cacique in Panama, Bacardi rum in Puerto Rico, a range of tequilas in California and Mexico, flower and fruit wines in Northern California, and recently Guaro in Colombia.

 

Guaro is the traditional welcoming drink in Colombia. Its real name is Aguardiente, ardent water or, better, fire water! A good host will always have some on hand along with the excellent Colombian rums that are available. Guaro is offered to guests on arriving at your home and is served in several ways always in small aperitif glasses or specially decorated ceramic cups.. Most of the time it is served neat and at room temperature of course. It is customary that women will typically sip it since it is very high in alcoholic content up to 60 proof. For men (and today of course for women as they please), it is meant to be thrown back and down. Sometimes a drop or two of water is added. Sometimes it is mixed with milk fifty-fifty.

 

Americans might prefer it with an ice cube to cut the rich taste, but I think that would be a mistake. The guest should accept a second small cup full, but go easy on that! Guaro is marketed as being extremely pure. Drunk in small amounts there should be no problem with inebriation or hang overs. But of course each person is different.

 

El Guaro is an anisette. Aguardiente tastes like the French summer drink, le Pastis, also an anisette mixed with water that turns cloudy or milky from its gorgeous golden color. Pastis is never drunk before dinner because as the French say it will spoil the taste of the food to come. At a one star Miichelin restaurant in Toulouse I made the horrid mistake of ordering a Rickard pastis as an aperitif. The waiter looked alternately confused and horrified and he simply refused to serve it to me. “Non, Monsieur, s’il vous plait, , ce n’est pas bon, non, non.” He called the manager who gently and quietly explained my faux pas to me and they gave me a complimentary champagne Kir Royale to make up for my embarrassment. Seems to me that a kir before dinner might have the same effect of ruining the subtleties of the cuisine. Guaro however is drunk as an aperitif before dinner or as the French drink pastis , as an afternoon libation.

 

At clubs be expecting to be offered a guaro by perfect strangers. It is a gesture of friendship, but street smarts tell you to check the stranger out. Make sure both he and you are in a group, and then smile, salute, and drink. Buy a bottle later in order to reciprocate.

 

Guaro is flavored after distillation from its sugar juice beginnings with star anise and other “secret and proprietary” vegetals. Like most tropical drinks, cacique and rum for example, it is pressed sugar cane juice, zumo de la cana, that forms the base of Guaro. In Panama, Guaro is simply the fermented cane juice. Cacique is distilled cane juice. But in Colombia they add the herbals. Also various grades of Aguardiente are made depending on barrel aging for added flavor, smoothness and color and the various herbals that might be added.

 

A fabled anisette with a bad reputation that has proven to be undeserved is Absinthe. It is made from a compendium of herbals of which fennel and wormwood are the key ingredients. It was thought to be psychedelic and eventually that it would kill you. Well, the alcohol will do that, but the herbals turned out to be harmless.

 

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