Aguardiente is Colombia’s national liquor. But unlike rum in Cuba, whiskey in Scotland, or tequila in Mexico, nobody seems to care much about what brand of aguardiente they drink. We’ve yet to meet an aguardiente connoisseur.
This had us wondering, is there a best aguardiente in Colombia or are they all the same?
There was only one way to find out:
A blind taste test.
Intro to Aguardiente
Colombian Aguardiente is a (usually) clear anise-, or licorice-, flavored alcohol. It’s similar to raki in Turkey, ouzo in Greece, pastis in France, or sambuca from Italy. Also known as “guaro,” it’s around 29 percent alcohol.
Most commonly, Colombians and partying tourists buy a bottle of lukewarm aguardiente and drink it with friends by the shot, chased with beer.
If they don’t buy a bottle, they buy a milk box of it. Aside from the fact you can’t seal them, aguardiente boxes are convenient for their portability and light weight. It’s rare for a bottle or box to be opened and not finished on the same night anyways.
While researching for this taste test, I discovered nine sobering facts about Colombian aguardiente. Click here to see them in a new tab.
Finding the Best Aguardiente in Colombia
The Colombian aguardientes we included in our blind taste test were:
- Antioqueño Tapa Roja: “Red cap,” the traditional version of Colombia’s, and the world’s, top-selling aguardiente.
- Antioqueño Tapa Azul: “Blue cap,” is Aguardiente Antioqueño’s sugar-free version.
- 1493: The premium brand of same company that makes Antioqueño, this aguardiente is barrel-aged using the “solera” process.
- Llanero: The aguardiente of Colombia’s Eastern Plains.
- Platino Deluxe: From the Colombia’s Pacific region, Chocó, the fact that they use “deluxe” in their name is a bad sign.
- Aguardiente Amarillo de Manizales: From Colombian’s coffee-region, a small hint of saffron is reportedly what gives this aguardiente its yellow color.
- Cristal: The top brand from the Caldas department, it has a loyal following who ardently believe it’s the best aguardiente out there.
And, as surprise twist for our blind tasters, we included Ricard pastis, a French anise-flavored liquor. Many people say it tastes the same as aguardiente. We were going to find out whether or not that’s true.
Our panel of aguardiente tasters was decidedly more amateur than that of our coffee taste test, when we had Juan “The Coffee Hunter” Cano as our professional guide.
One taster, Austin, had just arrived from Canada and never tasted aguardiente in his life. His note on the first aguardiente he tasted was, “vodka-ish.” The other four foreigners were recreational drinkers who only drink aguardiente when they are forced to or want to get to blasted to the point they think they can dance salsa. The only Colombian taste tester, Juan, said of himself, “I’m not very careful what I put in my mouth.”
Overall, we felt this panel was a solid representation of the aguardiente-drinking public.
The Blind Taste Test
Kim, our hostess and server for the evening, handed each taster a blindfold, a pen, a piece of paper, and two shot glasses. Our objective was to each rank the aguardientes from first to worst. Except for when drinking, we were told to keep our mouths shut to not bias anyone else’s thoughts.
We then put on our blindfolds and began.
Two at a time, Kim poured us small amounts of each type of aguardiente. We tasted them, compared them against each other, and took notes. Kim served one aguardiente, Llanero, on two separate occasions to test if we could actually tell the difference between the aguardientes or were just full of shit.
Here are the results, from worst to first, along with selected tasters’ notes.
9. The Worst: Antioqueño Tapa Azul
Average Rank: 6.7 out of 9
“Less smell. Strong after burn.”
“So alcoholic. Yuck. This is why I don’t do shots.”
7-Tie. Platino Deluxe from Chocó
Average Rank: 5.7 out of 9
“Gasoline smell, but it actually was alright. Woody, dirty.”
“Initially awful, after not too bad.”
7-Tie. Pastis by Ricard (from France)
Average Rank: 5.7 out of 9
“Pure anise. Sweet and dangerous. Like bringing a gun to a knife fight.”
“Good smell, bad taste. This deceived me!!! Like a slap in the face from a sweet grandmother (trust issues).”
Average Rank: 5.2 out of 9
“Stronger. Nicer aftertaste. Almost fruity.”
“Could get by on this, but I don’t know. [Tastes like] Skittles”
“Not tasty. No burn.”
Average Rank: 4.8 out of 9
“Smoothish. Burns lips a little.”
“Vodka-ish. Lots of burn.”
“How do I differentiate?”
3. Antioqueño Tapa Rojo
Average Rank: 4.7 out of 9
“Mixed with ice and lime it’d be alright.”
“Water? Super light.”
“Like watered-down guaro. By far weakest. Barely even anise flavor.”
Average Rank: 4.2 out of 9
“Smoother but spicy. Could do shots.”
“More alcohol smell. More licorice taste.”
1. Amarillo de Manzanares
Average Rank: 4.2 out of 9
“This hit me hard, but then it was kind of sweet, kind of like my ex-girlfriend.”
“Super anise. Not too strong.”
“Not strong alcohol-wise. Too sugary sweet.”
“Strong smell. Best taste so far.”
Conclusions on the Best Aguardiente in Colombia
Based on our blind taste test results, there is no surefire best aguardiente. But there are definitely some we’d recommend over others.
The Best Souvenir Aguardiente
The bottle we’ll bring back to Canada as a souvenir (if we ever leave Medellín) is the Amarillo de Manzanares. As you can see in the results table, it was a hit with two thirds of our tasters. The other third didn’t hate it, but just thought it was way too sweet.
The Crowd-Pleaser Aguardiente
The other we’d recommend, and the biggest surprise, would be Colombia’s top-selling aguardiente, Antioqueño Rojo. It’s perceived as the sugary aguardiente, but we all thought it tasted the most mild and light of all of them. For an inoffensive choice that will please everyone, this is the one.
Different Brands Do Taste Different
Most of us tasters did a decent job of not being fooled by the duplicate tasting. We all ranked both tastes of Llanero within a couple spots of each other. The only exception was Juan, the one who said, “I’m not very careful what I put in my mouth.” He ranked the two tastes of Llanero as his second worst and second best aguardiente, so he wasn’t lying.
Pastis is Way Different from Aguardiente
And as for our twist, the French pastis, it didn’t fool anyone. Its taste and alcohol level (45 percent versus 29 for the others), was completely different. Some hated it, some loved it, but there was no doubting it was aa entirely different drink.
Aguardiente Just Ain’t Great
Speaking of “different drink entirely”, the reality is that we’ll stick to beer, wine, rum, and vodka. This is especially the case after we learned these 9 sobering facts about aguardiente.
More Taste Tests
For how to conduct your own taste test and some fun taste test ideas, see our Blind Taste Test Guide.
And if you’re visiting Colombia, our Unconventional Medellin Travel Guide is the best place to start planning.