Rules of Engagement for Firewater Consumption
Aguardiente in Medellín
The night starts innocently enough. I’m supposed to meet a group for dinner, two nights before a good friend’s wedding in Colombia. I haven’t seen my friend Sacha, his brother Martin—who’s also a friend—or their significant others in two years. But no way was I not flying to Medellín for this wedding.
And without knowing anything beyond the fact that we have a large reservation at a restaurant, I’ve assumed that I’ll be meeting grandparents and aunts and uncles and in-laws at a casual sit-down meal. I’ve assumed incorrectly.
Without any advance notice, it’s actually my friend’s bachelor party, a Medellín finale prior to his big day. This is explained to me after I suggest we wait to order drinks until “the girls arrive.” The girls are not, in fact, arriving. Apparently everyone else knew, the information was just never passed along to me.
I speak embarrassingly little Spanish. Even my Irish-French-Canadian friends can best me tonight, thanks to their Colombian wives. But there’s only one word I need to know this evening: aguardiente.
Good old Colombian firewater. Specifically, the ubiquitous anise-flavored Aguardiente Antioqueño, bottled at 29 percent ABV, and available in either the sugary red-capped edition, or the blue label sin azúcar.
I’ve had aguardiente before, but never really had it. As in, I never sat down with the sole purpose of drinking nothing but aguardiente until something reaches its breaking point—my wallet, my good sense, my consciousness, whatever the case may be.
As the group gathers, and I do end up meeting family members – brothers and cousins and husbands of sisters and friends—the rules of engagement are laid out for me. Most typically, a bottle is purchased for the table or group, along with a few small bottles of water or soda to chase it down.
There are no mixed drinks. There is no sipping. Aguardiente is all about shots, period. And if one person takes a shot, everybody takes a shot. If one person raises a toast, your shot glass better be filled and raised, ready to go.
I’m nothing if not game for a drinking challenge, so rather than taking the half measures of ordering individual shots or half bottles, I suggest we get the ball rolling the right way, with a full bottle. It was the first of four full bottles. Or was it five? Six? I can tell you definitively that I personally consumed more than a dozen shots. Undoubtedly, things were hazy by the time of my 3 a.m. departure back to the hotel.
The price was paid in full the next morning. We vowed to avoid aguardiente at all costs during the wedding itself. (These vows were promptly and repeatedly broken.)