AGWA spurs Seoulites 'cocaine alcohol' addiction
What can be more intriguing than an alcoholic beverage that is not only made from medicinal herbs, but is also derived from the same leaves used in the production of cocaine?
In a country whose drug restrictions are so strict that even Red Bull can seem scandalous, not much else comes to mind.
Agwa de Bolivia (aka 'AGWA') is a 30 percent ABV 60 proof herbal liqueur made with coca leaf and 36 other herbs and ingredients. It comes all the way from Amsterdam to help fuel the nightlife scene in Korea.
An alcohol that is 'healthy' seems an easy sell, especially to Koreans who are obsessed with eating for health.
It's ironic, however, that we don't hear anyone mention herbal health benefits when they talk about AGWA. They usually just mention the drink's relation to cocaine.
Aron, a 27-year-old bartender at LUV SuperLounge in Itaewon, says that the drug schtick is one of the main reasons people find out about AGWA in Korea.
"Word spreads because people want to say they were one of the first to try the 'cocaine alcohol,'" he says.
LUV SuperLounge is one of the few places in Seoul that carries the drink.
Better in a bomb
Actually, most people experience the drink in the form of the AGWA Bomb -- a combination of AGWA and energy drink.
The glass, shaped like a pin-up girl from the 1940s, is sectioned to get a little energy drink in the bottom topped off with the alcoholic nectar of the coca leaf (and other ingredients).
The Chernobyl glow is enough to get people to notice.
Popping up in places that appeal to party pros and hip professionals, AGWA is sold as a pricier alternative to that other medicinal tasting alcohol, absinthe.
LUV SuperLounge, 116-15 B1 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-Gu (용산구 이태원동 116-15 B1); +82 2 794 8898