Drug Booze

Agwa de Bolivia Coca Leaf Liquor

Agwa de Bolivia Coca Leaf Liquor

I Paid: $32.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 5 stars

After all the excitement surrounding the return of absinthe (largely based on the overhyped, forbidden, allegedly psychotropic qualities of wormwood), it makes sense that a coca-based liqueur might be trotted out as the next living-on-the-edge beverage. Thus: Agwa de Bolivia, a 60-proof mixture of 30-plus herbs and other botanicals and—yep—Bolivian coca leaf. The leaves are picked, then shipped to Amsterdam, where they are macerated and distilled before being blended with the liqueur’s other ingredients.

The cocaine alkaloids are removed during production, so you won’t be getting high. But the liqueur seems positioned to capitalize on people’s wishful thinking. Witness the website (agwabuzz.com) and the prominently displayed “crafted in Amsterdam” on the label. Indeed, online reviewers have insisted the drink makes them feel “wired.”

The drink’s neon green color led me to expect crème de menthe or something nastily medicinal, but I was pleasantly surprised. Notes of licorice, spearmint, green tea, prunes, and possibly eucalyptus or tobacco come through when it’s sipped straight. I can’t tell you which flavor is the coca leaf, but when chewed in nature, the leaves are supposed to be pungent and numbing, and indeed this beverage has a nicely astringent quality. It’s a drink that defies description, and while the jungle of flavors would seem to bode ill for mixing, that’s not the case.

I tried it with mint, mint syrup, and soda, in a sort of modified Mojito. I imagine Agwa would also taste good mixed with pineapple juice—its refreshing depth is a remarkably good sport about playing with other light, tropical-inspired flavors.

Between the high price and the flavor-of-the-moment feel, it may be challenging for Agwa de Bolivia to find a loyal band of consumers. Perhaps if bars and restaurants look beyond the druggy aura and unleash this stuff’s considerable mixology potential, it could become a long-term liquor shelf mainstay.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow Chowhound on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.

See more articles
Share this article: