Getting Drunk in Colombia

Alcohol is known to be consumed by various people in various places over time.  They consume alcohol for a variety of reasons: to relax, to excite, to loosen the tongue, to socialize, to celebrate, to show off, to live an addiction, to get drunk, etc.  Moderate consumption of alcohol is socially acceptable and maybe even considered as healthy.  But excessive consumption of alcohol will result in intoxicated behavior, which can be foolish and even dangerous.  

Why do people consume alcohol?  Some people will tell you that they do so in order to get drunk.  This is obviously a controversial reason to consume alcohol.  In the TGI-EGM Colombia study, which has survey data from 12,609 persons between the ages of 12 to 69 interviewed during 2003, 7.8% of the survey respondents said that they totally agree with the statement "La gracia de tomar alcohol es emborracharse" (The point about drinking alcohol is to get drunk).  In what follows, the reader should bear in mind that this article is of a tongue-in-cheek humorous nature without taking ourselves too seriously.

What kind of fool would believe in that statement?  If we talking about fools, could it be lower-class uneducated louts?  In the next chart, we show the agree rate by socio-economic level and educational achievement.  For socio-economic level (SES 6 is upper class whereas SES 2 is lower class), the relationship is monotone.  For educational achievement, the relationship is not completely monotonic.  For example, the group of "university incompletes" breaks the trend.  Why?  Is this because these are current university students?  Or are these people who never graduated because of their interest in something else other than studies?  We don't know.

(source: 2003 TGI-EGM Colombia)

In the chart below, we show the agree rates by age/sex groups.  The bad news is that the highest agree rate occurs among juvenile males (see also The "Vices" Among Latin American Youth) while their mothers and grandmothers are appalled.  Is this true?  We think so.

(source: 2003 TGI-EGM Colombia)

A marketer may be less concerned about the ethics of selling alcohol for people to get stone-blind drunk than the practical knowledge of just what people prefer to drink in order to become drunk.  Before showing any data, what would be your guess?  Here is an article on an age-old Colombian drink (AP via Miami Herald):

Ever since the mid-1600s, when the king of Spain tried to ban it, aguardiente has been Colombia's beloved booze. Drunk from crystal shot glasses in wood-paneled lounges or from plastic cups in honky-tonks, aguardiente knows no class boundaries.  ``What am I without aguardiente? I'm a nation without people, a tree without roots,'' a Colombian living in the United States once lamented in a now-famous poem.

Andean farm workers often carry a flask to ward off the frosty air.  Step into a bar, and among the beer guzzlers and whiskey sippers you'll see people knocking back shots of the sweet anise-flavored liquor.  ''It's not a sipping drink. You get a table and a bottle and sit there until it's done,'' said Pablo Robledo of the Caldas Liquor Industry, which produces Cristal aguardiente, a best-selling brand.

Time was, you couldn't get Colombians off aguardiente.  Colombia's Spanish colonial rulers banned aguardiente in 1693, fearing it led to moral decay. The colonists ignored the ban. In 1700, the Spanish crown admitted defeat, and monopolized the industry.  The colonists didn't much like his majesty muscling in, and scattered rebellions erupted across the land, but the controls remained tight until Colombia won independence in 1810.  Many Colombians can sing by heart a song that is almost as sappy as the drink itself: ``Give me an aguardiente, made of the sugar cane of my valleys and the anise of my mountains. Don't serve me a drink from abroad which is expensive and doesn't taste as good.''  

But today, aguardiente is facing competition from beer, which costs about the same; rum, which is only slightly costlier; and imported wines and spirits, which are less expensive with the easing of trade tariffs.

The following chart shows the consumption incidences of various alcoholic beverages.  While beer may be most popular, it is admittedly not easy to become drunk on beer.  In second place, we find the Colombian staple, aguardiente.

(source: 2003 TGI-EGM Colombia)

But our question is not about consumption incidences.  We were looking at just who thinks that the point of consuming alcohol is to get drunk.  In the next chart, we show the agree rate with our opinion statement by consumption behavior.  The agree rate increases with consumption volume.  We suppose that this should be expected, since heavy consumption presumably correlates with drunkenness and, we should add, hangovers.  Of the beverage types, somehow tequila rose to the top, followed by vodka.  

We ran a small survey among our Colombian acquaintances.  Before anything, we asked, "If you have to get drunk in a hurry, what would you drink?"  The universal answer was, "Aguardiente."  What about tequila?  Answer:  Too complicated with the salt and lime.   Then we showed them this chart and asked for an explanation.  Without fail, they said that Colombians must have built up tolerance to aguardiente through repeated use.  Is that true?  We don't know ...

(source: 2003 TGI-EGM Colombia)

(posted by Roland Soong, 3/24/2004)

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