If you're headed to Colombia for the first time, and you go out to a bar or nightclub, the first thing that will probably strike you is the ubiquitous aguardiente. It means something akin to fire water in Spanish, and it is the national Colombian alcoholic beverage. You'll find it everywhere, from the trashiest dive bars, to the most expensive bars and nightclubs in Bogota and Medellin.
Aguardiente has between 24% and 29% alcohol, and is typically drunk neat, and served chilled, with lime wedges and some salty snacks. Colombian aguardiente is called guaro in the vernacular, and has a distinctive anise flavoring (which is also the flavoring of licorice). It's a bit of an adjustment in the beginning, but some foreigners may be familiar with the concept because it bears some resemblance to ouzo, a Greek anise-flavored liqueur.
Guaro is quite pervasive in the Andean region of Colombia, and makes a good complement to cold Colombian beer. The most popular brands nationwide are Nectar from Bogota, Aguardiente Antioqueno from Medellin, and Blanco del Valle in Cali. However, many other Colombian cities also make their own distinctive guaro, including Tunja, Villavicencio, Manizales, Popayan, Ibague, Neiva (Huila), and Quibdo (capital of Choco).
If you're diving into aguardiente for the first time, a word to the wise: drink the aguardiente sin azucar (without sugar) and your body will thank you for it the next day. Aguardiente with sugar has been known to render unsuspecting foreigners horrific hangovers.
While aguardiente is arguably the national beverage, it faces stiff competition from rum, especially on the coast.
The three biggest brands are Ron Antioqueno from Medellin, Santa Fe from Bogota, and Ron de Caldas from Manizales.
You might also sample the high-end Dictador brand; it's a luxurious rum, aged twenty years, that boasts of tones of vanilla, oak, tobacco, and honey. Grab a bottle for around $100.000.
Rum in Colombia is also often drunk neat, with ice.
Colombians in general are not big cocktail enthusiasts, although all upscale clubs, bars, and discotecas will offer a variety of cocktails.
Typical bars serve rum and aguardiente by the bottle (750ml) media (375ml/half-bottle) or by the boxed liter.
In a grocery store or liquor store, expect to pay around $25.000 to $40.000 ($13 to $21) for a liter or bottle of rum or aguardiente, while a media is typically $10.000 to $15.000.
If you're a whisky enthusiast, you will find Old Parr served in all high-end clubs, but it's expensive. But buying a bottle of the luxurious scotch may just be the ticket to impressing those girls you want to ask out on a date at the next table!
What You'll Spend
The most inexpensive bars will serve a bottle for around $40.000, while a standard bar might charge $70.000 to $90.000. Of course, if you are going out in such areas as Parque Lleras in Medellin, Calle 82 or Parque 93 in Bogota, or Menga in Cali, you could pay anywhere from $80.000 to $200.000 for a bottle of your favorite rum or aguardiente. But that's still quite a bit better than the $200 or $300 bill you'll get for bottle service in a typical club in LA or New York!
If you have a predilection for vodka, gin, or tequila, you're out of luck, unless you want to buy expensive imports. Taxes on imported liquor (and everything else) are quite high in Colombia, so be prepared to dig deep into your wallet, or go without your favorite libations until you return to your home country.
Always make sure you clear up the prices beforehand if you are buying bottle service in a Colombian club. While most waitstaff and club owners are honest, it is not unheard for foreigners, especially those who do not have a good grasp of Spanish, to be overcharged.
And, if you're in the mood to try something really off the beaten path, why don't you give viche a try? This is a traditional Colombian moonshine prepared by women on the Colombian Pacific coast. You'll easily encounter it in Buenaventura, Juanchaco and Ladrilleros, Popayan, and Pasto. This special white lightning is artesanal fermentated sugar cane juice, and it will put hair on your chest!
All in all, if you're heading to Colombia, make sure to wet your whistle with some local guaro or rum, but please drink responsibly, take appropriate safety precautions, and most importantly, have fun!