The Ultimate Peruvian Beer GuideJuly 11, 2018
Calling all Peruvian Beer aficionados: whether you’re living here, planning your trip or even if you’re just passing by – our team of experts has compiled the ultimate guide to Peruvian beer, customs & drinking culture, just for you. So read on, discover, and we promise that by the end of this guide you’ll be enjoying your night of ‘chelas’ just like a local.
More than just Pisco
Many travelers who arrive in Peru get the initial impression that the perhaps more glamorous ‘Pisco Sour’ is the drink of choice for the Peruvian people. And while this writer certainly wouldn’t discourage you from a night of sampling Peru’s fine choice spirit, if you’re searching for that authentic Peruvian nightlife experience, beer is undoubtedly the way to go.
Now if you’re a backpacker, this’ll probably come as music to your ears: Peruvians drink a lot of beer. In-fact, a 2010 Euromonitor report found that of all the alcohol consumed in Peru that year, a whopping 95% was in the form of beer! To put that into context, that’s almost 80,000,000 liters of beer – in one year.
The question becomes, then: of these 80,000,000 litres of beer consumed – which beer is best?
The Peruvian Beer Heavyweight( ̶S̶)
It’s a big question, and one that could yield you a wide range of differing answers depending on whereabouts in the country you ask it. For instance, those in Arequipa may be more partial to a bottle of Arequipena than anything else, whereas the locals in Trujillo may, surprisingly, be more likely to recommend you try a bottle of Pilsen Trujillo.
But although these locals may swear adamantly by their beer of choice, the contest for Peruvian beer supremacy might not be as hotly contested as it seems. That is to say, if you’ve ever been in a Peruvian bar and thought to yourself that a lot of these brands taste a bit familiar – you may be relieved when I tell you that no, you’re not crazy. The truth is, when it comes to the battle for Puru’s best beer, the real winner is the ‘Bakus’ brewers group. This subset of the SABMiller group produces 7 of the top beer brands in Peru. The most common of these include the Cusqueña, Pilsen Trujillo, Pilsen Callao, Cristal, San Juan & Arequipeña brands. (Interested in visiting any of the breweries mentioned above? Plan your trip today!)
On any given night out in Peru there are three beers you’re most likely to encounter. Cheap, cheerful and most importantly, plentiful – they are Cusqueña, Pilsen Callao & Cristal (and if you’re looking for the best places to drink them? We have that covered too)
Cusqueña is brewed in four varieties (Roja, Negra, Trigo, Dorada) however the most common of these is Dorada. Cusqueña Dorada is a flavorful, 5%, golden lager, brewed with 100% pure barley and SAAZ hops to give it that extra kick.
Pilsen Callao, then, is probably the most commonly drank beer in Peru. This national beer’s flavor has gone through many reinventions over its 100 year existence before arriving as the Pilsen that Peruvians both young & old know and love today. It’s a light, bubbly, golden yellow lager with a 4.8% alcohol content. It’ll be instantly recognizable by the end of your trip in Peru from the distinct green hue of its bottle and the slightly bulbous neck.
Finally, then, we have Cristal. This lightly golden, American-style lager has been described by its brewers as a ‘classically brewed beer’ with a refreshing taste and ‘just the right amount of bitterness, persisting long enough to welcome on the next beer’. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? And if that testament isn’t enough for you, it’s also this writer’s personal favorite.
Sampling more than just the beers of Peru while you’re in South America? Then why not check out this handy guide to the best beers South America has to offer.
Customs & Culture
For most travelers, the first time stepping foot in a Peruvian bar can be a slightly bewildering experience with a whole host of foreign customs to become adjusted to. These customs can range from how the drink itself is served, all the way down to how you’ll actually drink it.
The first difference many travelers will notice, especially Britons and those of European origin, is that beer in Peru is rarely served on draft/tap. Instead, you’re much more likely to be served your ‘par de chelas’ (round of beers) in large 620-650ml bottles. Be careful if you’re with a party of locals though, as taking a sip straight away could leave you getting some very funny looks. This leads us very nicely onto what’s perhaps the most unique Peruvian beer drinking custom of all..
The Peruvian Drinking Circle
Typically occurring in communal/party settings, the Peruvian drinking circle is a super-social, super-communal system for drinking your beer. The basic premise is this: one group, one glass, one beer.
Your typical Peruvian drinking circle will go down a little something like this:
- Peruvian A buys a large, 650ml bottle of beer, accompanied by one small, solitary glass. He fills up the glass and hands the bottle onto his friend, conveniently named Peruvian B. She holds the beer bottle while Peruvian A finishes his drink.
- Peruvian A quickly finishes his drink before flicking whatever froth and remnant remains in the glass onto the ground. He then passes the glass onto Peruvian B.
- She then pours herself a glass and hands the bottle onto, you guessed it, Peruvian C. And on and on the process continues.
And when the bottle is finished? Whoever erases it, replaces it. Traditionally speaking, if the last person to pour a drink from the bottle was a woman the nearest man would be expected to purchase the next bottle, however now, in 2018, this convention has been largely phased out.
The Craft Beer Scene
Now if you’re somewhat of a craft-beer connoisseur you’ll be delighted to hear that the craft beer revolution that has taken the world by storm over the last couple of years has not overlooked Peru. In fact, Peru now boasts one of South America’s most vibrant craft beer scenes, with brands such as Cerveza Magdalena & Cervecería Barbarian in Lima and Cerveza Zenith, the Sacred Valley Brewing Company & Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado in Cusco.
Looking to try some? Well if you’re in Lima, you’re in luck. Offering a wide selection of artisanal brews ranging all the way from crisp blonde ales to sharper, dry stouts, below are just some of the establishments our experts recommend any avid craft beer lover visit during his or her stay in Lima:
Victoria Bar – Pedro de Osma, Barranco: Equally well-known among locals for its cocktails, this Barranco based late night lounge also boasts an impressive range of South American craft beers, certainly enough to satisfy drinkers of all tastes.
Jaya Brewery – Calle Mártir José Olaya 139, Miraflores 15074: On a more quiet note, this restaurant/brewery offers a wide selection of Peruvian craft beers served in more personal, relaxed setting – perfect for enjoying a round over some quality conversation.
BarBarian – Calle Manuel Bonilla 108, Miraflores 15074: Many locals will tell you this Parque Central adjacent bar offers the widest range of Peruvian craft beer in all of Lima – and they’d be telling the truth. Opening 7 nights a week, Barbarian is simply a must visit for any craft beer fans during their stay in Lima.
And if you’re wondering what this writer recommends? @cerveceriamad . This up & coming artisanal craft beer from Lima boasts some unique, quirky, and downright delectable brews – all packed to the brim with eye-popping flavor. Make sure to check them out over on their Instagram & Facebook pages here!
Bonus Tips: The Law
I’d be remiss to publish any blog entitled ‘The Ultimate Peruvian Beer Guide’ without at least a brief mention of the rules and regulations that’ll make sure you not only get the most out of your time in Peru, but also get home in one piece.
In terms of the legal technicalities, you must be at least 18 years of age to buy/consume alcohol, but let’s just say the enforcement of this law is lenient at best. In general, vendors will be happy to supply alcohol to customers as young as 15 in some cases. The local police seem to have adopted a similarly tolerant outlook as well with regards to enforcement of this law.
Another legal nugget most Peruvian travelers probably aren’t aware of concerns public drinking – it’s permitted, as long as one is not in a stationary position. That is to say, public drinking is fair game, as long as you’re walking (or running, jumping – maybe even crawling depending on how your night’s gone). It is only if a person is standing still that public drinking becomes a regarded as a misdemeanour.
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