Being the social lubricant it has been for millenia, the communal imbibing of spirituous beverages can often be an effective way to make your first wavering steps into a new culture. Not only can a couple of responsible drinks let down your self-conscious barriers a little so that you feel more comfortable around new people and decide you’re suddenly unbelievably proficient in the local language, but observing the customs surrounding this miraculous fermented invention can allow you certain insights into the way a culture is lived and celebrated.
Colombia, oh my friends, is no different in this regards. I must say that I’ve had a little practise when it comes to the ins and outs of Colombian drinking, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt so far, in an attempt to see if my findings are actually accurate, or just a little fuzzy – for whatever reason that may be.
Like all great drinking cultures, Colombia’s seems to be based on sharing. Beer, the most consumed booze here, is all well and good. The Colombian versions are generally easy-drinking and not over-strong, and this means that going beer for beer with your drinking buddies isn’t too much of a challenge, and can be done at a leisurely pace for the duration of the session. Where Colombian drinking comes into its own is with the sharing of a bottle.
Now, the kind of bottle can change depending on the occasion and sometimes geography (for example, there’s the coastal phenomenon of Old Parr to understand), but let’s assume (and it’s a fairly safe assumption) that it’s our old friendly foe, Aguardiente, or guaro, as it’s lovingly referred to. It’s good practice to share the cost of the purchase of a bottle with your drinking associates, and then take turns to distribute it around the group. This distribution takes into account many factors; the major being who is the thirstiest, who is the most enthusiastic pourer, and what the group considers the appropriate rate of distribution for each member.
For example: say it’s Alejandro’s birthday, and that Maria really enjoys pouring shots. Alejandro doesn’t want to drink particularly much, but his friends think otherwise. Maria has to navigate between the desires of Alejandro, the opinion of the group, and her own burning passion to give other people guaro. It’s a fine art, and always intriguing to watch the outcome. It would generally end up with a sweaty, red-faced Alejandro dancing ferociously to reggaeton, not realising how completely horrendous his guayabo will be in a matter of hours. Happy birthday!
Now, all this might sound pretty wild, but, really, it’s often not too debaucherous. Unless it’s a special occasion, the guaro bottle could last an hour or two, with the drinkers generally taking only half-shots (up to 15mL) and at a relaxed pace, in between bouts of dancing and/or arguing about football. This doesn’t mean that the guaro hangover (unfailingly terrible) will be any less soul destroying, but that things won’t get too crazy too quickly. Also, an excitable drinking group will suddenly have the urge to share their bottle with strangers they take a shining to, so if you do find random Colombians coming up to you with a plastic shot glass, it’s up to you to decide between being safer or sorrier. This is a tough call, but I’d suggest that if you have any forebodings at all, to politely decline, and continue with your own select group.
Other than that, enjoy the ride, and good luck for tomorrow morning! You’re probably going to need it.
I’ve only scratched the surface of Colombian boozing, and so now it’s up to you to flesh out the whole ritual in the comments field below. What have I missed? What have I got wrong? What am I drinking tonight?
Definitely not aguardiente.
Oh… well, alright, maybe one…