Which Peruvian drinks should you try?
Visiting Peru without trying Peruvian drinks would not be right. Imagine holidaying in France without wine. A visit to Dublin without Guinness. Cold Russian nights without a warming glass of Vodka. An impromptu Cuban street party without Rum. Peruvian drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are a quintessential aspect of Peruvian culture- and some of these Peruvian drinks are rarely found outside Peru, even less outside the wider South America.
Alcoholic Peruvian Drinks
1. Pisco- The Favorite Peruvian Drinks
Pisco is made from pressed grapes. It is the most typical and popular alcoholic Peruvian drink. You can use it in cocktails or drink it straight. It is a clear grape brandy- similar to the Grappa of Italy and equally as potent.
What is the best Pisco?
There are 8 varieties of grapes used in Pisco.
- 4 non-aromatic varieties – Quebranta, Mollar, Negra Criolla, Uvina
- 4 aromatic varieties – Torontel, Moscatel, Italia, Albilla
- Pisco acholado is the name given to blended Piscos
Therefore, the best type of Pisco depends upon how you want to drink it- straight up or in a cocktail.
Where is the best place to try Pisco in Peru?
Pisco tastings are available at a variety of restaurants and bars. We recommend the Pisco Museum in Cusco as a great place to try this quintessential Peruvian drink. This is not actually a museum, but a bar with expert pisco knowledge on tap and a plethora of cocktails. The sommelier will guide you through the various types of spirits available and share all the information you could want. When we tried it, we learned more in half an hour about Pisco than we had in twenty-five years combined living in Peru.
2. Pisco Sour- National Peruvian Drinks
A Pisco Sour is the best-known Peruvian drink outside Peru, and it is the national cocktail of Peru. If you are coming to Peru, you will probably have heard of it and want to try it. The most popular story says that Pisco Sour was invented in the Bolivar hotel in Lima in the 1920s but this article says it was invented earlier.
3. Chilcano- Peruvian Drinks for the Locals
A Chicano is the preferrable Peruvian drink for many natives as opposed to a Pisco Sour. This is because Pisco Sours are very sweet and don’t sit well after a few. So if you want to drink as the locals do, why not try a Chilcano? A Chicano is Pisco, ginger ale, lime, and angostura bitters. It’s light, it’s fresh, and you can have a few before you really feel it!
Of all the Peruvian drinks, cañazo is the least recommended. This is the drink of choice for alcoholics in Peru, and it is often cut with kerosene or something equally nasty. It does have more harmless origins, as a spirit made from sugar cane. There were a lot of sugar cane plantations along the Peruvian coast at one time. So making a sugar cane spirit was natural.
5 Caña Alta
Caña Alta is produced in Ollantaytambo at the Destileria Andina. It is a high-quality, clear sugar cane spirit. Kind of like a very refined and much healthier cañazo. Read more about it on their website. It is sold in the top Lima restaurants.
Anisada is produced in the Curahuasi area of Peru where Anis is grown. It is a pleasant aniseed-flavored digestif. You can try it anywhere where they serve chicharrones, the traditional fried pork dish. Digestion slows at altitude, so if you eat pork, be sure to aid your digestion by washing it down with a digestif of Anisada.
Until recently beer in Peru was not very good and would have rarely if ever, made a list of Peruvian drinks to try. Thankfully that has changed.
Once upon a time, all you could buy was various gassy bottled lagers. While different beers were more popular in each region, they were all still equally gassy and bottled. Some of the best-known of these Peruvian beers are Pilsen, Cristal, Trujillo, Arequipeña, and Cusqueña.
While they started out as independent breweries, they were one by one bought out by Backus, the main Peruvian brewer. Backus was bought out in 2019 by InBev, the huge multi-national beer company. So it is debatable whether any of these beers are really Peruvian anymore.
In Lima and the north, these typical beers will be served ice cold. In Cusco, however hot a day it is, you will have trouble getting a cold one outside of the main tourist bars and restaurants. The locals believe drinking cold beer is bad for you in a place where the temperature can change so quickly.
Peruvian Craft Beers
Fortunately for beer lovers, in the last few years microbreweries have flourished in Peru. This means you can drink beer that is actually made and owned by people in Peru- reinventing this Peruvian drink into something that can appeal to everyone- instead of just a large corporation. One of the craft breweries that grew the fastest was Barbarian. However in 2019, Backus bought Barbarian- so Barbarian by default is now part of the massive multi-national InBev. It still offers good artisanal beer- but there’s better to be found.
Where can you try Peruvian craft beer?
There are however still many small Peruvian breweries, remaining proudly independent.
If you are in Cusco, you should try Zenith Beer. Sold on draught at Cusco bars such as Cholos, Nortons, Paddys Irish Bar, and Limbus, it is also available in bottles in a variety of bars and restaurants across Peru. The Zenith brewery was started by Zac, an Australian and long-term Peru resident, and Milka, his Peruvian wife. Their selection of Peruvian beer includes IPA, porter, brown ale, blonde beer, red lager, and much more.
You can also visit the Zenith taproom, Thursdays, Friday, and Saturday nights if you want to try some great local beer in a friendly atmosphere. One of the strengths of the taproom is the mix of locals, long-term foreign residents, and visitors- offering a great location and vibe for you to enjoy your Peruvian drinks in.
For other nights of the week, or when you prefer to stay in town, try Cholos Bar. This always has a range of Peruvian craft beers on tap.
Another option is The Sacred Valley Brewery at Pachar just outside Ollantaytambo. This is also highly rated and again has a tasting room for all your Peruvian drink needs.
In Lima, the Barranco area has plenty of bars selling Peruvian craft beers.
Some brands can be bought in the supermarkets too.
8. Peruvian Wine
Once upon a time, if you asked us where to get a decent glass of wine in Peru, the answer would have been “ In Argentina or Chile”. But things have changed. Restaurants often have extensive wine lists, admittedly dominated by imported wines. But there is now good Peruvian wine available.
Wine has been produced in Peru ever since the Spanish conquest back in the 16th Century. But it was not the best. Some say the lack of cold nights where it is grown along the coast, is the missing factor. The wine was usually very sweet, which comes as a shock to many visitors and has laid down some speed bumps for this Peruvian drink. However, things have changed for the better.
Help came in 2009 when the Santiago Queirolo vineyard, which had been producing wine since 1880 just south of Lima, released its Intipalka label. It was the culmination of a modernisation process that started in 2000. And it really is pretty good. They offer 10 varieties.
- Tannat (most commonly found in Uruguay)
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Malbec (Argentina’s most famous wine),
- Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
They also offer the slightly higher priced Intipalka Reservas:
- Cabernet Sauvignon/ Syrah
- Malbec/Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon/ Petit Verdot.
Top of the range, released in 2013 is “ Intipalka N°1”, made from Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Tannat.
High altitude Peruvian wine
There is even a Peruvian winery close to Cusco with the aim of being the highest in the world. Read more about the Apu Winery here. It lies on the road from Cusco to Lima, 3 hours from Cusco and you can even stay the night by prior arrangement. It’s a great place for wine lovers to tick off their bucket lists and indulge themselves in this Peruvian drink.
Currently, the Apu Winery produces three wine varieties, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, and a Rose, with their grapes grown between 2850m and 3300m. It is stocked in some of the best restaurants in Lima, including Central.
While off the tourist route that most people take, if you are into wine, it is well worth a visit. And Fernando and Meg are great hosts. Visit the Apu Winery website here.
If you are interested in organizing a private tasting or a cocktail making class, contact us for more ideas, adventures, and updates. Alternatively, check out our Cusco (and/or Lima!) cooking classes to really get a taste for the culture.
Non Alcoholic Peruvian Drinks
Chicha is the traditional Peruvian drink in the countryside. It was and still is what thirsty farm workers drink throughout the day. You may see red plastic bags stuck on bamboo poles as you travel around Cusco and the Sacred Valley. These denote Chicha for sale. As soon as you step outside of the town of Cusco you will start to see them everywhere.
Chicha is made from corn, quinoa, or a number of other grains, depending on what is growing in the area. It is usually a cloudy white color. This homebrew gets stronger with age. It is very refreshing on a hot day and actually very tasty.
However, you should be careful where you try it. Chicha can cause stomach upsets to some visitors, where the water has not been purified or sufficient hygiene procedures used for delicate stomachs.
Where can I try Chicha?
If traveling with a local guide, they will be able to take you to somewhere to try it in the Sacred Valley or Cusco area. It is widely available. However, not everywhere is hygienic enough for visitors’ stomachs.
Frutillada is a type of chicha made with wild strawberries. It should be pink in color from the strawberries- but occasionally they add beetroot juice to strengthen the color. Served in Peru since long before the Incas, this used to be served in pottery cups called K’eros but is now served in a special pint-sized glass.
Where can I try frutillada?
You can find frutillada in the same places that chicha is sold.
Refresco is the homemade juice, that is served in most restaurants and homes at lunchtime. It is made by boiling water and adding the juice of certain fruits. Or perhaps the whole fruit is added. Sugar is then added, and often the drink is whizzed in the blender.
Fruits used in refresco depend on what is available in the area. Passionfruit, apples, tree-tomato, and many more can feature. Normally you use one fruit at a time. Although lemon is often also added.
Limonada is homemade lemonade. Traditionally served as a lunchtime drink in Peru, you simply squeeze limes into boiled water, add sugar, whizz in the blender and leave to cool. Some restaurants may add ice, but it is not so usual in homes.
You can flavor limonada with plants or fruits such as mint, lemongrass, or passion fruit. It is above all a refreshing drink, but beware some places can put a lot of sugar in.
5. Peruvian Tea
When you think of Peruvian drinks, you probably do not think of tea. But yes, they grow tea in Peru.
The Huyro region, on the way from Machu Picchu to Quillabamba, is the most famous tree-growing region. If you happen to be passing you can buy kilos of tea direct from the growers very cheaply. You can also buy it in any grocery store or supermarket as teabags. Some local markets sell loose leaf tea too.
Peruvian tea is not the best in the world, but it is not bad. But you cannot get the variety of flavors and aromas that you can find in more well-known tea-growing regions such as India.
6. Peruvian coffee
You can find Peruvian coffee in supermarkets in Europe and the US. You can also find specialty Peruvian coffee in more specialized coffee sellers across the world.
Where can you learn about coffee in Peru?
If you do not have time to visit a coffee hacienda, then the best place to learn about coffee in Peru is in The Museo del Cafe in Cusco.
The Museo del Cafe has a free museum section where you can learn about the history and process of growing coffee in Peru. It also contains the small coffee processing room for Polo y La Borda Coffee. Because this is the brand of coffee from one of the founders of the Museo del Cafe. They grow it on the family farm, near Quillabamba, which is past Machu Picchu. You can buy bags of their beans or ground coffee here.
This article highlights one of the best coffees in Peru- Inti Coffee. The owners have now moved to the US and are selling their Peruvian coffee there but the cafe and farm are still run by the family. Eduardo now runs the small Inti Coffee cafe in Cusco, which has moved address since this article was written. Check out their website here.
In conclusion, Peru really does have drinks to suit all tastes and occasions. Tell us what your favorite Peruvian drinks are in the comments below.