Why You Should Be Drinking Aguardiente, Colombia’s National Liquor

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To the liquor layman, aguardiente might be described as Colombia’s version of tequila: a Latin American spirit that’s made—and makes you feel—a special type of way. The closest most Americans get to aguardiente is while bar hopping in Cartagena over New Year’s. After decades of absence on the bar shelf, this culture-infused liquor might finally deserve a spot. Miami-based Cumbé Spirits is flipping the shot glass on its head with their artisanal (and dare we say, very attractive) bottle of Colombian liquid fire.

“Raised in a Colombian household, I was always surrounded by aguardiente at joyous occasions large and small,” Cumbé Spirits founder Moises Mendal told Men’s Journal. “My favorite memories are from annual family trips to the Rosario Islands near Cartagena. We’d be at sea by day and go out dancing in the colonial town at night with a bottle of aguardiente nearby. At some point, you would even see my grandfather enjoying a glass.” He knew that an ultra-premium aguardiente would eventually cross the Caribbean into the rest of the world—turns out Mendal would be the man to do it with Cumbé.

Like any desirable spirit, this aguardiente will get you on your feet. “The name ‘Cumbé’ comes from cumbia, an expression of musical rhythm that evolved from a mix of cultures, including African, Indigenous, and European,” says Mendal. Cumbia is also one of the most popular music genres throughout Latin America, therefore building this roll-off-the-tongue association of celebration and good times was a natural fit for a premium aguardiente. But crafting a from-scratch recipe for an unfamiliar audience came with a strong consideration for flavor.

A main taste component in aguardiente is star anise, a spice that Colombians are exposed to from their traditional cuisine. Unsurprisingly, Americans are a tad more sensitive to this vaguely herbal and licorice aroma. “By using a finer Andean anise called pimpinella, we’re aiming to appeal to a wider group of individuals.” Cumbé’s intentional subtlety also makes it suitable within a range of cocktails, targeting those who like their drinks mixed.

Mendal’s clear vision for his premium aguardiente came to life through a partnership with Colombian master distiller Fernando Botero. This year, Botero celebrates his 24th anniversary in the liquor industry. His admirable career began at the largest alcohol manufacturer in Colombia, “first learning about potable alcohols, then working with essences and oils in the lab, and finally the barreling process.” Eventually Botero’s passion for liquor would earn him a Guinness World Record for hosting the largest aguardiente tasting in history.

Botero is frequently asked to consult on various projects that leverage his expertise in an ever-changing industry, including one that led to the creation of Cumbé: “After being tasked by a Cuban firm to develop alternatives for barreling their rum, we focused on leveraging Colombian white oak,” Botero recalls, “which is now what we use to barrel Cumbé. It’s what gives those woody notes and bright finish.”

As a premium aguardiente, Cumbé stands out from the pack—even back home—thanks to the close relationship among its producers at every step of the distilling process. Naturally, sourcing quality ingredients is also paramount. “The alcohol comes from sugarcane grown in the Valley of Cauca, which has unique properties that allow for exquisite fermentation and distillation of the highest quality,” he adds. “Instead of using star anise like other brands, our pimpinella anise comes directly from the Colombian Andes, which lend softer and more pleasant herbal notes.” Even the water used to make Cumbé is ultra-pure, sourced from the glaciers of Los Nevados.

According to Botero, each regimented step in creating Cumbé results in a difference you can taste—also evident through the varied ways one can imbibe it. “Sipping room temperature, chilled with a large ice cube, or in a delicious cocktail—it’s great in all its forms,” says Botero. “What I enjoy most is bringing Colombia’s national spirit to the rest of the world in a sophisticated and elevated manner, all for the very first time.”

A Guarapo mule, made with Aguardiente from Cumbe SpiritsCourtesy of Aura Groupe

Guarapo Mule

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 fl oz Cumbé Premium Aguardiente
  •  ½ fl oz Strega liquor
  • ½ fl oz lime juice
  • 4.5 fl oz ginger beer

PREPARATION

  1.  Pour all ingredients into a metal mug.
  2. Add crushed ice.
  3. Lightly stir.
  4. Garnish with a lime wheel, grated cinnamon, and crystallized ginger.

A Cumbé Old Fashioned, made with Aguardiente from Cumbe SpiritsCourtesy of Aura Groupe

Cumbé Old Fashioned

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 fl oz Cumbé Premium Aguardiente
  • ⅓ fl oz panela syrup (or raw sugar simple syrup)
  • 2 fl oz chocolate bitters
  • 3 dashes grapefruit bitters

PREPARATION

  1. Bring all ingredients into a mixing beaker.
  2. Add a large ice cube and stir.
  3. Pour into an Old Fashioned glass.
  4. Peel and express oils from a grapefruit.
  5. Garnish with an orange twist.

A Panamerican Style cocktail, made with Aguardiente from Cumbe SpiritsCourtesy of Aura Groupe

Panamerican Style

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 fl oz Cumbé Premium Aguardiente
  • 5 to 6 lime chunks
  • 0.5 fl oz of panela syrup (or raw sugar simple syrup)
  • 0.5 fl oz of passion fruit puree
  • 3 dashes of rose water

PREPARATION

  1. Muddle lime chunks, then add remaining ingredients.
  2. Fill shaker with ice and shake vigorously.
  3. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass and fill with ice.
  4. Garnish with edible flowers.

A Pimpinella cocktail, made with Aguardiente from Cumbe SpiritsA Pimpinella cocktail, made with Aguardiente from Cumbe Spirits Courtesy of Aura Groupe

Pimpinella

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 fl oz of Cumbé Premium Aguardiente
  • 1.5 fl oz grapefruit juice
  • 4.5 fl oz grapefruit soda

PREPARATION

  1. Fill a tall glass with crushed or crescent ice
  2. Pour in all ingredients
  3. Give it a quick stir
  4. Garnish with a grapefruit slice

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