The Peruvian Beer-Drinking Tradition

peru-beer-drinking-ritual

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.

Quick Tip:  If traveling to or from Lima Airport, it is strongly recommended to use the luxury Airport Express Lima  bus to get to or from your hotel. Safer and cheaper than a taxi with no baggage limit as well as Free WiFi and USB chargers onboard, it is ideal for travelers.

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?

  11 comments for “The Peruvian Beer-Drinking Tradition

  1. Tom
    October 21, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Love the article Tony. I remember my first experience in Peru with the beer ritual. I didn’t understand ..one bottle ,one glass and 7 or 8 people. You can imagine the looks I got when I went to the fridge, took out a large Cristal and started right in out of the bottle!

  2. October 21, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Hi Tom, thanks for the comment! I was totally baffled the first time I encountered this style of drinking, it seemed totally unnatural. I love drinking with the locals, but I’m still not a fan of the system.

    It’s especially annoying when there are 8 or 10 people drinking and only 2 or 3 of them have any intention of paying!

  3. Nestor
    October 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Awesome, I’ll be in Peru in a couple of weeks and I’m getting a bit bored here in Ecuador with 2 local beer brands. Do they have many more local brands in Peru?

    • October 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Nestor. You’ll find a few local brands in Peru:

      http://howtoperu.com/2010/12/15/best-peru-beer-poll/

      Pilsen Callao (Lima, sold throughout Peru) and Cusqueña (Cusco, also sold everywhere) are the two most popular. Cristal is also common, but a bit bland. It’s worth trying some of the other regional beers — also a good excuse to go to the bar. Keep an eye out for Pilsen Trujillo on the north coast and Arequipeña down south.

      Have fun, and feel free to leave another comment later on if you find a favourite Peruvian beer.

      Cheers!

      • FC
        October 28, 2013 at 8:37 pm

        The best beer here in Perú is Pilsen! Much more tasty than cusqueña, but cusqueña is also good.
        Btw, that ritual that you talking about with the beer possibly it’s true but not always, I remember that I drink of that way years ago but is most common between men’s, in a party or something like that is not very common, possibly because they are women in there hahaha

  4. carlos
    August 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I’m Peruvian American and whenever I head back to Lima this takes a little getting used to. I remember the first time I went back and got some unpleasant looks when I (as a peruvian) was so weirded out by the custom. Now I actually look forward to hanging out with friends and taking part in this whole ritual when I’m there. It’s not the same in NY. I also find it more common in intimate groups of friends, rather than more open social gatherings, where people drink individual bottles or out of their own glass. I’d say if you’re a foreigner in Peru and find yourself drinking with people and sharing a glass, you’ve found yourself some friends.

  5. ed
    April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I suggest that if you want to drink alone, do not buy the big bottle, if not small, so no one scolded, but will have to go buy more often. Ja, ja, ja, ja. If you drink large bottle will laugh at you, your little social tact by not inviting to share the joy of the occasion or celebrating, so drink all indoors. At a meeting that does not pay drinkers told “camaron (shrimp)” and can add it to your list of Peruvian slang, I read in another article, hahaha.

  6. ed
    April 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    There are jokes about beer: if you are in Cuzco and calls Pilsen Callao, the dinar would jokingly Cuzco, the Pilsen Callao use it to wash the glasses before taking “Cuzco”. On the contrary if in Lima, so depending on which region is located. There regionalism.

  7. ed
    April 26, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    If you want to buy a bottle to drink alone girl and may do so, but drinking a large bottle alone is a sign of disrespect in Peru. Unfair, but the reality is, you could be considered a type that lacks socialize

    • Sandra
      February 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      That depends of the social circle itself, actually. It’s an old custom and is generally accepted, for BBC, that it began as a tribute to the Mama Pacha for when the natives drank the chicha de jora– As I see it, it’s just a way to clean the glass. Of course, it’s full of prejudice and in the city, it’s often see it as a barrio thing, like, you’ll only see it happening in a guetto; if you don’t drink it you’re alzado–preppy. In the “countryside”, it is a tradition and it’s disrespectiful depending of the people with whom you drink.

  8. October 21, 2014 at 11:50 am

    The more I read your blog, the more I realize that you’re a man after my own heart! loved the video and the info…seems like i saw Peru completely through this post.

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