I knew to expect a sophisticated culinary scene in Colombia, but I was unprepared for the very high standards of its bartenders. The mojito was the cocktail I heard ordered most frequently, and if you enjoy this refreshing drink of rum, lime, mint and soda, you'll find numerous fine examples throughout Colombia.
But I was most excited to try cocktails based on one of Colombia's tropical fruits or aguardiente, a smooth, anise-flavored spirit distilled from sugar cane. On the cocktail lists which did have drinks made with local juices, they tended to include either lulo, which tastes like a cross between an orange and a lemon, or corozo, which has a flavor reminiscent of currant and tart cranberry.
With one or more of these three ingredients, bartenders created some thoroughly delicious drinks. Here are some of the most memorable cocktails I tried over the course of our Colombia trip:
This Colombian version of a classic French 75 cocktail substituted corozo-infused gin, corozo syrup and Chandon rosé sparkling wine for the usual gin, sugar, lemon and Champagne. That list of ingredients doesn't sound like the makings of a balanced cocktail to me, but the Corozo 75 tasted surprisingly round and rich, its deep flavors leavened by the texture of the sparkling wine. A lovely floral quality overlaid the drink's darker berry notes. It was a delicious cocktail, and it heralded the superlative meal to come.
The personable bartenders at Bar El Coro in the Sofitel Santa Clara displayed such care when crafting their cocktails, it made me regret not reserving a stay at the hotel. The bar felt at once masculine, tropical and stylish, and many evenings it hosts live music performances. I didn't see anything made with local ingredients when I glanced over the extensive cocktail list, but the accommodating barman offered to make a customized drink for me. He combined fresh lulo juice, aguardiente and sugar to make a cocktail of unimpeachable Colombian pedigree. It tasted perfectly balanced, with anise overtones tempered by creamy citrus notes.
I never saw any other patrons at Tcherassi's Aquabar, bracketed on either side by waterfalls. But I loved the bar and the cool courtyard adjacent to it, with its comfortable seating groups and three-story wall of tropical plants. Our first afternoon at the hotel, I brought my novel down to the courtyard and ordered a Tcherassi Martini, a mix of gin, aguardiente, mint and lemon foam. It had a ripe lemon aroma and refreshingly sharp citrus flavors, which balanced the sweetness of the aguardiente and the herbaceous quality of the gin. It was just the thing for a gently breezy Caribbean afternoon.