Hooch Swap: A Cultural Exchange

I love traveling.  Well, not so much the journey (the airlines have sucked all the joy out of that), but the destination.  For me, traveling is all about eating and drinking.  And I try to follow a When in Rome travel philosophy . . . I’ll have what the locals are having.  Because eating a Big Mac in Rome is wrong.  The only reason I will go into a McDonald’s in Europe is if I’m desperate for a bathroom.  There’s always a bathroom in McDonald’s.  It’ll be a three-story McDonald’s with 5,000 people crammed inside.  There will be a people to toilet ratio of 5,000 to 1 . . . but there will be a toilet.  Anyhow . . .


I have a girlfriend who shares the same When in Rome traveling philosophy, and over the years, we’ve developed a little cultural exchange we call Hooch Swap.  Whenever we travel, we buy a bottle of the local hooch from wherever we are, and bring it home.  Then we get together and savor a taste of some far-flung corner of the world — Germany, South Africa, Argentina . . . Vermont.

My girlfriend’s latest treasure is Aguardiente from Colombia.  Aguardiente is an anise-flavored liquor made from sugarcane.

It comes in a box that’s exactly the same size as a child’s juice box.  All it’s missing is the bendy straw.  Can you imagine the potential social debacle if you accidentally sent Junior to school with this instead of apple juice??

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Literally translated, Aguardiente means fire water.  And that about sums it up.  I’ve never eaten fire before, but I imagine it tastes a lot like Aguardiente.  Aguardiente is “only” 29% alcohol, but it could strip the paint off a car.

My girlfriend says the Colombians drink Aguardiente straight, but I’m a wuss (I like my stomach fire-free), so I sipped mine with an ice cube.  If I ever find myself on the streets of Colombia, I will, of course, drink it straight.  But I’m in Virginia, so the ice cube stays.

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Aguardiente tastes a lot like Ouzo . . . and I really like Ouzo.  But Aguardiente has an aggressiveness to it that’s tough for me to get past.  That said, Aguardiente has a lighter mouth-feel than Ouzo, but it seems hotter, more alcoholic.  Given that Ouzo has the higher alcohol content (40% vs. 29%), that seems odd.  Ouzo is also a bit sweeter, so perhaps that throws off some of the heat?  I’m sure there’s some kind of academic, sciency explanation for this.

I don’t hate Aguardiente . . . but I don’t think I’ll be having any wicked Aguardiente cravings any time soon.  But as always, I am grateful for the chance to taste a little bit of a land far, far away.



  1. When I saw Anthony Bourdain drinking this on tv last week, it was always in a very tiny cup, and they seemed to do it as shots, while drinking beer. It didn’t seem to be a sipping hooch. I love the idea of a hooch swap.


  2. I sadly have to admit that my first meal on my trip to Scotland was at McDonalds. It was morning, after a redeye flight, we left the airport on our way to our small town destination, and McDonalds was the only restaurant that we could find that was open for breakfast. It was a consistent theme – apparently the Scots don’t eat much breakfast!


      1. No, it was pretty much the same as the US. That does remind me of a time I lived in Chile though. A friend was really homesick and so tired of eating Chilean food, so she decided she wanted to go to Pizza Hut, to get something more like home. Every single one of their pizzas had corn on it – it was so strange! Corn?! She was so disappointed…


      2. I visited Chile with a friend of mine (who is Chilean) a few years ago . . . LOVED it! And they do love corn, don’t they? I crave Pastel de Choclo in the winter, with its sweet corn crust! Salud!!


  3. I admit to visiting McDonald’s overseas. We had spent 10 days in Thailand and were heading home with a layover in the Tokyo airport (the day before the tsunami). I ate and drank local for the entire trip. (FYI – Thai whiskey is actually rum). However, I was famished and all we could find in the Tokyo airport was sushi. I few little pieces of raw fish wouldn’t cut it. I ate a Bic Mac.

    Oh, and I sipped Aguardiente plenty in Colombia. I still don’t know what I think about it.


    1. I think I may have been at a Big Mac point in Tokyo, too! Did the McDonald’s there have any fish (besides the Filet O Fish) on the menu? My husband was stationed in Japan and he said even the McDonald’s and Pizza Hut had fishy stuff on the menu. Not his bag.

      Did you drink the Aguardiente straight in Colombia? I’m not sure I could do it. At least not for long . . . Salud!


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