Review – Agwa de Bolivia Coca Leaf Liqueur
Coca leaves hardly have the most respectable of reputations, but given their historical inclusion in Coca-Cola it is perhaps unsurprising that they would one day find their way back into something drinkable. Picked 2,000m above sea level in the Andes, the fresh leaves are packed into bales and transported to Amsterdam where they are macerated in alcohol. This liquid is then distilled before having 36 other herbs and botanicals added including green tea, mint, guarana, ginseng, lavender and cucumber. After being diluted with grain neutral spirit this blend is then reduced in abv to the bottling strength of 30% using water, sugar, and lime juice concentrate. Colouring is added, and hey presto you have the world’s only coca leaf liqueur.
Neat: Very sweet; too sweet were it not for the underlying flavour profile that is tolerable but with too much alcohol heat to make it enjoyable in its neat form. As with the nose, menthol, anise and caraway dominate but this time there are punctuated by a spicy heat that carries the ginseng to the fore. Fortunately the spice tails off initially on the finish, but it is the mint and chilli notes that leave the lasting impression. The recommended serve for neat drinking is very well chilled, and certainly this dulls the less amiable aspects of this liqueur, but not sufficiently to convince me there is any merit to the shooter style of drinking.
Mixing: For a product that is hardly a runaway success tasted neat, it bears up surprisingly well in the mixing stakes. With the high degree of sweetness, plenty of citrus is almost essential, but drinks such as the Rainforest Caipirinha (recipe below) or Coca Margarita are in fact rather passable. Herbal and quaffable, they are by far the best option for consuming this liqueur. Apple juice works well to smooth things out a little and the Manzana Smash is a refreshingly sippable direction to head. Unfortunately some of the other recommended serves such as the Piranha (with bitter lemon) and Bolivian Mule (with ginger beer) make little sense, and reveal a flavour profile that although reasonably complex, too often clashes and appears confused. It seems that some effort has been made to market this product as a partner for energy drinks and, whilst the concept is understandable given the appeal it’s illicit ingredient will have amongst some segments of the drinking population, it can’t be recommended for those who desire to please their tastebuds.
Signature Cocktail – Rainforest Caipirinha
50ml Agwa de Bolivia, 10ml sugar syrup, half a lime chopped into quarters
Muddle lime in base of shaker then add rest ingredients and shake with ice. Pour into a rocks glass.
Agwa de Bolivia is both too good to be reserved only for frozen shooters in student dive bars, and insufficiently tasty to warrant space being made on the home bar. It is though it needs a little more product development, the flavours and potential are there, and it is capable of making a decent drink, but it just hasn’t quite nailed it. Rating: ★★
Agwa de Bolivia Coca Leaf Liqueur is available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.