Although Aguardiente is a alcoholic beverage which originated on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), it ultimately found its way into most parts of the world, particularly the Latin American countries. By the early 19th Century, Aguardiente was considered a fine liquor by devotees in Mexico.
Today it is made of a multiple number of fruits and tubers. However the favorite source of material to produce Aguardiente, in times past, was grape skins fermented and distilled. It is a sort of brandy, if you will. The alcoholic content was anywhere from forty percent to sixty percent. This moonshine was not for sissies. The meaning of the word tells it all. It is a combination of agua (water) and ardiente (fiery). But of course, it is firewater!
Aguardiente was imported from Spain into Mexico since the days of the conquistadors. As Alta California was settled, this potent beverage was accessible to the interior from major coastal cities in Mexico. Spain provided a flow of necessities and coveted cargo alike, by ship.
It took very little time, however, for enterprising Mexicans to produce their own Aguardiente from a variety of fruits grown in Mexican soil and distilled in local environs. The source of materials was oranges, grapes, bananas, and cane sugar. One variety which has the distinct flavor of rum was made from cane sugar after the fiber was used for sugar production. It is truly a by-product, and is highly sought after.
Aguardiente is a generic term. Today, many distilleries produce their version of Aguardiente. Some utilize distinct materials and, on occasion, flavor their products. Most Aguardiente is produced with no additives, however. The liquid can be anywhere from clear, like US moonshine, to yellow, tawny brown similar to bourbon, or black. The material used to create fermentation gives the color to the beverage.
This marvelous fire water was set aside for special occasions. The rich served Aguardiente. Those who wanted to appear rich served Aguardiente, maybe in smaller portions.
I mention Aguardiente in my novel Equal and Alike. It is served on several occasions by Californios to the main character, Joshua McBride, throughout the story. I think you will enjoy his adventure. Order a copy of Equal and Alike today from Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and other purveyors of fine books. My website, jmkirklandwords.com, can provide you with more information.