Aguardiente (Spanish), aguardente
(Portuguese) or augardente/caña (Galician) is the generic
name for alcoholic drinks between 29 and 60 percent alcohol, meaning
"firewater", or, literally "burning water" .
Left: A man in Colombia
pouring a shot of aguardiente.
The word itself is a compound word, combining the words for
water ("agua" in Spanish, "água"
in Portuguese, or "auga" in Galician) and burning ("ardiente" in
Spanish, "ardente" in Portuguese and Galician).
By definition, aguardientes are strongly
alcoholic beverages, obtained by fermentation and later distillation of sugared
or sweet musts, vegetable macerations, or mixtures of the two. This is the most
generic level; by this definition aguardientes may be made from a number of
different sources. Fruit-based aguardientes include those made from
oranges, grapes, bananas, or madronho. Grain-based ones may be made from
millet, barley, or rice and tuber-based aguardientes from beet, manioc,
or potato, and finally what are classed as "true" aguardientes from
sugarcane and other sweet canes including some species of bamboo. Under this
definition, many other distinct liquors could be called aguardientes, including
Pisco, and certain forms of hard
Some histories state that the Egyptians were the first to use fermented liquors,
as cures for diverse medical conditions. The ancient Greeks however, pioneered
the process of creating and distilling ácqua ardens. Greek aguardientes
were created by distilling wine. The expansion of the Roman Empire brought
aguardiente to Europe and the Middle East and aguardiente became the base of
alchemical elixirs such as the Elixir of Longevity.
In the Middle Ages, in a 1250 study of distillation by Arnaut de Villeneuve, he
described the "spirit" of wine; later his contemporary, Raymond Lulle, through
the process of distillation 3 or 4 times over very low heat, claimed to have
discovered in wine the essences of the four elements, Earth, Air, Water, and
Fire. By about 1730, ageing distilled aguardientes had become common practice,
and now in the 20th century these are considered distinct from "pure" or "raw"
(i.e. unaged) aguardientes.