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COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 17 January 2006 | Views [2718]

Whereas my affair with the fine Aguila beer already has the feel of a lasting, dare I say life-long, relationship about it. My shallow trysts with the national hards drinks of Colombia will remain as just that, flirtations trysts and dalliances. So far there have  been a few laughs, true, but then just as many embarrassments.
First a little background, the two principal hard liquors both fall under the generic name "Ron". I started off with the wrong end of the stick on that one, much to the amusement of my new 'rummy' friends here. When I asked them if the guy "Ron Mendellin" every really existed they very nearly spilt their drinks laughing. Much like the crisply striding Johnny Walker or his jolly incestuous backwoods cousin Jack Daniels, I had started to see the Character of Ron Medellin as a jolly guacho or traditionally dressed Colombian chap much like the one in the photo below. I do admit that Ron is probably a more likely name for a Brew XI drinker than a vachero but I reasoned to myself that 'Ron'was probably a shortened endearment for Ronaldo or some name of a similar nature. Well no. Ron is the Colombian or Spanish word for Rum and the little black spider on the label of the Medellin variety, and the word añejo, which means aged, should have warned me that nothing enduringly good was in store for me. In the textbooks is is described as follows; "Anejo Rum is a golden blend of rich, aged rums with a mellow taste and rich aroma." But believe me, the Colombians do NOT sit around sipping and sniffing at this stuff marvelling at its maturity. It's one shot, off and the next is on the way. Three quarters of the way through the second bottle found me thumbing through my Oxford English-Spanish dictionary trying to phrase a polite refusal, which would have consisted of something like " Thankyou but no, one more and I will definitely soil myself..." The Oxford does helpfully cover this eventuality with the following and I quote:
"...v refl to shit oneself (involuntarily) cagarse* "
While trying to formulate 'cagarse' into a jolly spanish phrase the subclause 'involuntarily' suddenly grabbed me an sent me into a tailspin. Was there actually a word out there that described voluntary self-soiling but was so utterly vile and reprehensible, even for those dry dons at the Oxford, that it may not be read or spoken? There must be. Otherwise why the universal subdivision implied in 'involuntarily'. While musing on this new sub truth I'd necked two more 'Rons' and was well on the way to finding out for myself. Although I awoke the next day with relatively clean undergarments I did not actually reach my bed without some assistance. My legs having refused service of any kind.
Anecdotal follies aside here are some of the facts:
Aguardiente is by far the favourite of the national drinks. This stuff is real firewater. They make it from molasses which is flavoured with anise and then distilled till a strength of about 60 proof is achieved. Then it is sweetened with sugar.This is definitely a patriotic tipple, much as whisky is to the Scots and has led to many tearful ramblings by misty-eyed bards;
"Give me an aguardiente, made of the sugarcane of my valleys and the anise of my mountains. Don't serve me a drink from abroad which is expensive and doesn't taste as good."
"What am I without aguardiente? I'm a nation without people, a tree without roots,"
A boot without a sole etc. You get the drift. Not Rabbie Burnses ode to a mouse I'll grant you, and probably losing a little in translation,  but with a bottle of this under your belt you'll be weeping into a plastic beaker or a crystal glass with the best of 'em. Aguardiente is nothing if not a great social 'leveller'.
The Spanish tried to ban the stuff in 1693, much as the Frenchies did with Absinthe, but all to no avail the Colombians fought any restriction on Aguardiente, tooth and nail, right up until they gained independance in 1810. Then the drinking began in earnest. Nowadays it's more fashion that threatens it's continued existence, low taxes on imported drinks and high taxes on the domestic product are taking their toll. The industry is fighting back however with a new 'light' version. One calorie a glass. The imaginative catch phrase being "No Sugar, No Regrets." Colombians all over the country must be crawling out of rubbish skips every morning with soiled 'pantalones' and muttering this to themselves. May it bring them solace.

Tags: Party time

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