By now, if you’ve been following us, you must realise the enigma that is Colombia’s indisputable Number One Liquor leaves us with ambiguous feelings, to say the very least. Let’s leave the fire-water conundrum alone for a while, and have a look at some other home-grown drinks you may have the fortune – good or otherwise – to run into whilst hitting the well-frequented bars of Colombia this weekend.
1. Old Parr.
But first, it would be rude to Costeños not to mention this 12 year old, Speyside blended whiskey here. Inhabitants of the coast make up 20% of Colombia’s population, but account for 40% of the consumption of this particular booze. Just head to what the military refer to as Valledupar, but we prefer to call the Valle de Cacique Old Parr, to witness how indispensible it is to the enjoyment of vallenato, and coastal life in general (no better time to go than now, as today marks the opening of the Valle de Cacique Old Parr’s Festival of the Vallenato Legend). There’s even a popular song about it. Why the love affair? It’s a fairly tasty whiskey, but we still don’t get it. It has been said that it’s because whiskey doesn’t make you sweat as much as the Colombian fire-water or rum favoured elsewhere, but, even if you swallow that, it still doesn’t explain why this scotch in particular. An inheritance from a successful whiskey smuggling caper of years past? The pretty bottle? Clever salespeople (Old Parr is only made for export – it’s hard to find most places outside of Latin America, or – just as dumbfoundingly – in Japan)?. Instead of worrying your pretty little head about such unfathomables, though, why not just blast some vallenato, and share a bottle with some fellow enthusiasts? You’ll sweat less, apparently…
Alright, so this is more understandable. Colombian rum is cheap and abundant everywhere here, and, having not come across it at all during my years of antipodean bartending, suprisingly good. Generally quite sweet and not too heavy on the palate, it’s the perfect tropical tipple – even if you’re trying to warm yourself up in Bogota. My pick would be the well-rounded, slightly spicy Ron de Medellin 12 year old; but Ron de Caldas isn’t terrible, either. There’s even an excellent one named after that larger-than-life artist, Fernando Botero.
Have a go at some Colombian rum cocktails, too. I dare ya.
Now, I’m absolutely ecstatic that when the Ancient Egyptians messed up storing a batch of grain, accidentally letting it ferment, and, upon tasting the result, decided to try to do it again. I’m over the moon about this sequence of events, because that’s how beer came into the world. I think Colombians are, too, because beer is the alcoholic beverage imbibed the most here. However, when the Ancient Colombians realised that if you chew up some corn, spit it out, and then let if ferment, you get something called chicha; in my personal opinion, they should have put that behind them and resolved to never make the same mistake again. I don’t get this drink at all. I don’t want to describe what it tastes like to me – suffice it to say that if I happen to have that taste in my mouth, it generally means I might be driving the porcelain bus in a couple of minutes. That’s just my opinion, though. Some people must like it, as it’s readily available in a number of parts of the country, particularly in the funky little student bars around El Chorro in Bogota’s La Candelaria. A particularly funky drink for a funky bar?
Made from a complicated process involving flour and panela (sometimes a bit of banana flavouring, too), forcha is much less offensive to my delicate constitution than the in other ways similar chicha. It’s really a light foam with a yeasty-fermented sort of flavour, that is probably easier to attack with a spoon than trying to actually drink it. The downside for me is that it’s not particularly alcoholic, but maybe one should give one’s liver a rest now and then, hey? You can find it being peddled on the streets of the major cities. Ask the guy to put a squirt of red syrup in it, if he hasn’t already.
You may recall that I discovered this treasure during my crazy week in Pasto earlier this year. I hate aguardiente with a passion, and will often proclaim this fact while downing copious shots of it. However, chapil is guaro’s redemption. Like aguardiente, it’s powerful, and with a distinctive aniseed flavour; however, unlike aguardiente, it is well-rounded, complex, and damn tasty. It’s also stronger than aguardiente. Try to get your hands on some, if you can – and enjoy it respectfully. Did I mention that it’s strong? It’s strong.