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Aguardiente

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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 Vodka, Sake, Pisco, and certain forms of hard Chicha.

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.

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