“Estoy embarazada de mi español,” I told my boyfriend’s friends at brunch, perched atop a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Pacific port town of Valparaíso, Chile. They laughed.
I learned very quickly that “embarazada” does not mean “embarrassing,” but rather, “pregnant.” In that moment, I was muy, muy avergonzada. I needed another drink.
Writing, liquor, and embarrassment have gone hand-in-hand for what I can only assume is forever. After all, Ernest Hemingway — an icon of both short sentences and long vacations — once said that it’s best to “write drunk and edit sober.” While I didn’t do a lot of writing in the three weeks I spent in the south of Chile, I did drink a lot of cocktails and said mucho embarrassing things. In that bevvy of beverages, I had the best mojito of my life, and learned how to be slightly less embarrassed of being embarrassing.
Lots of people swear that they’re better at speaking a foreign language under the influence. They’re wrong. There’s science to suggest that a few drinks can make a person feel more confident in their speaking, but it’s far from a genius elixir. Drinking lowers one’s inhibitions and allows them to more easily share their thoughts, but it doesn’t guarantee those thoughts will be good or coherent.
But as soon as I got into a situation where I was surrounded by people — especially at bars — I felt lost. Every time someone spoke to me it sounded like an explosion of vowels. After about two weeks of persisting through many Frankensteined conversations of Spanish, English, and Italian words I remembered from college, I needed a drink. And I found the best one.
Enter the Best Cocktail On Earth
On Valentine’s Day, Roberto and I went to a restaurant called Trawen, tucked away in the resort village of Pucón. After perusing the drink selection, I decided on a mojito with something called “Träkál” in it. I am assumed it was rum, but it wasn’t. It was better.
The first sip of my mojito con frutilla was almost transcendentally good, and not in a saccharine Eat, Pray, Love way. It tasted the way listening to Enya and looking at corgis on Instagram makes you feel; like waking up three hours before you’re supposed to and having the unexpected luxury of more sleep. The subtle fruitiness of the liquor was a pleasant surprise and a perfect partner for the strawberries at the bottom of the drink. I slurped them up and quickly ordered another with renewed confidence.
It’s almost impossible to describe Träkál (Trah-CALL) to someone who’s never tasted it, since it’s a spirit literally in its own category. It’s a clear liquor that smells like a ghost who wandered through an Anthropologie
True to its mission, Träkál — which packs a respectable 42 percent ABV — is distilled and sourced from ingredients in Chilean Patagonia. I couldn’t find it in any of the local supermarkets, which makes me wonder if I imagined the drink in a fugue state induced by too much barbeque.
Ben Long, one of the co-founders of Träkál, tells Inverse that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) granted the drink its own classification as a “spirit distilled from apple and pear with natural flavors.”
“I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with that,” Long says. “The important thing is [the Bureau] recognized that we were different, and that we do not fall into a traditional category. If brandy and gin had a baby with Patagonian ingredients, that’s Träkál.”
Back in New York, I asked my coworkers to try a bit of this bizarre ambrosia, which is currently only available in Colorado and Chile (though Long assured me the brand is expanding to more North American markets this summer). The liquor lived up to its unique classification, as no one could describe it consistently:
“It definitely tastes herbaceous in the same sense that gin and sambuca do,” Inverse’s innovation writer Gabriela Barkho, who assured me she “goes to a lot of spirits tastings,” observed. “After a couple of sips, I can start to taste the hints of berries that the club soda brings out.”
Inverse’s entertainment writer Corey Plante described the same drink far differently: “It’s definitely in the same vein as anise spirits like ouzo and absinthe, but I think its closest cousin would be something like chartreuse with less mint,” he explains. “It’s definitely comparable to more herbal gins out there but with a lot of rugged spice to it. The finish is like most clear liquors, especially gin.”
Sipping that strange mojito in Pucón, just a few miles away from an intimidatingly large, active volcano, Träkál tasted fresh and unfamiliar. In that moment, a haze of laughter and bread (so much bread), I embraced my distance from home. While I might never understand the brain-mojito connection, there’s research to suggest that even a few days of international travel can make a person less anxious and more creative. Maybe that’s why I decided to contemplate my nature as stranger-in-a-strange-land in a bar 5,000 miles from home.
Maybe it was something in the water or the Träkál, or the smell of asado that wafted through the cool night air. But that night in the bar, I resigned myself from becoming anxious about using the subjunctive or usted form perfectly, which would likely disappoint my high school Spanish teacher and Gary from Duolingo.
Everyone is embarrassing all the time, myself included, but at least I’m trying not to be. I had to travel 24 hours, across hemispheres and on three airplanes, to realize we’re all just dumb-dumbs doing our best. We’re all skeletons piloting around these uncomfortable flesh cocoons in the hopes that we’ll do at least a few good things in our lifetimes and maybe one day understand the difference between por and para.
It took a drunken night that ended in ice cream to get me to realize this bizarrely comforting truth, but hopefully, your existential awakening won’t involve a hangover.