Peru is a big beer-drinking nation, something that most backpackers are happy to hear. And, while Peruvian beer isn’t of exceptional quality, it’s cheap and rarely in short supply. There is one particular cultural quirk, however, that many beer-drinking foreigners find hard to embrace in Peru.
Drinking Beer in Peru
A world without differences would be a dull place for travelers; cultural quirks, strange habits and frustrating inefficiencies are all part of the experience. When it comes to beer, however, a break with the norm could seriously upset your rhythm.
The traditional Peruvian way of drinking is definitely a cultural oddity. Peruvian drinkers gather in a rough circle; the beer arrives in a 650 ml glass bottle, accompanied by a small, solitary glass. A single glass to be shared among the group…
Navigating the Peruvian Beer Circle
The beer circle is a super-social way of drinking, that’s for sure. Here’s the basic one-glass system:
- Peruvian A (typically the bottle buyer) receives the bottle of beer and the solitary glass
- Peruvian A fills his glass then hands the bottle to Peruvian B (sitting next to him)
- Peruvian B waits with the bottle while Peruvian A quickly drains his glass
- Peruvian A flicks the froth from his glass onto the ground before passing it to Peruvian B
- Peruvian B receives the glass and fills it, then passes the bottle to Peruvian C
- Peruvian C waits with the bottle until Peruvian B passes him the glass
- Rinse, rotate, repeat…
You can see this in action below, courtesy of the BBC:
Who Buys the Beer in Peru?
As a vague rule, whoever finishes the bottle buys the next one and starts the process again. Traditionally, female drinkers don’t pay for anything (that’s left to the men). If it’s your turn to buy a bottle, make sure you buy the right brand — loyal Cusqueña drinkers won’t appreciate a sudden switch to Pilsen.
Alternatively, the bottles will just keep coming and the group will split the cost at the end of the session.
The Pros and Cons of the Peruvian Beer Drinking Ritual
The Peruvian style of drinking is a highly sociable, often community-orientated process. The passing of beer and glass from one person to the next is a simple act of sharing, emphasizing the unity between the drinkers.
If you’re accustomed to having your own glass, however, the process can be, in short, annoying. You can’t drink at your own pace and it’s almost impossible to keep track of how much you’ve drunk. Hygiene might also be an issue for some, despite the swilling-out of excess froth.
Drinking with Peruvians is normally good fun, but you certainly won’t be alone if you secretly dream of a large glass of beer that fits perfectly in your hand — and in your hand alone.
Do you enjoy the traditional Peruvian way of drinking? Or would you rather have a whole bunch of bottles and a glass for every drinker?