The one soft drink that you will see above all others, even more than Coke or Pepsi, is the neon green Inka Kola. This herba luisa (a type of lemongrass) derived cola tastes like a cross between bubblegum and cream soda. Herbal teas are also quite big. Menta (Mint), Herba Luisa (Lemongrass), Puro (Black), Manzanilla (Chamomile) and of course Coca Tea. Although very high quality coffees are growing on the eastern slopes of the Andes in jungle areas, it hasn’t really caught on. What is usually served is instant coffee or coffee extract, which you pour just a bit into a cup of water or milk. My parents actually visited and thought that it was regular coffee and drank a cup of it before I could explain to them what it was.
Without question Pisco is Peru’s national spirit and the Pisco Sour the national drink. It mixes lime, sugar egg whites, and a dash of bitters. It is often served as a welcome drink at hotels or to lure you into a restaurant. Other variations are the Maracuya Sour and the Coca Sour. The Aguaymanto Sour uses the Aguyamanto, or Cape Goosberry, as the base. Pisco is the quintessentially Peruvian drink. It is a clear, fermented grape brandy that dates back to the 16th century. It was first produced by the Spaniards from quebranta grapes (a variation of Muscat), in the vineyards of the Ica Valley.
There are 4 Main types of Pisco:
Puro: Made from the Black Quebranta grapes. It is dry and used in mixed drinks, although it can be drunk straight as well.
Aromatic: from aromatic grapes derived Muscat, Italia, Muscatel, or Torontel grapes. It is fruitier in taste and aroma than other varieties and served as an aperitif.
Mosto Verde: This variation comes from grape juice that is not entirely fermented to allow some sugar content. It is the most sophisticated and expensive to make.
Acholado: Acholado is blended with multiple types of grapes and drunken straight or what is found in the famous Pisco sour.
Other Pisco drinks include the Chilcano (Pisco, Ginger Ale and Lime), Pisco martinis, and Pisco tonics. The Algarobbina is almost like Peru’s version of the white Russian, although sweeter. It uses a sweet syrup made from the fruit of the Algarrobo tree that is found in the north of the country, as well as Pisco and a dash of cinnamon. This drink is second to only the Pisco Sour in popularity.
Wine is also quite popular. It is not as renowned as Chilean or Argentine wine, however, the Ica region does have several wineries of value. Ica, Tacama and Ocucaje come in red, white and rosé, sweet and dry varieties. Tacama Blanc de Blancs, Gran Tinto Reserva Especial, and Ocucaje’s Fond du Cave are recommended. Most wine served in Peru is from either Argentina or Chile, however.
As for beer, there are several varieties. Pilsen is a pilsner as you might expect. It is brewed in Callao, as well as Trujillo. It is similar to Crystal, which is found in Lima. Cuzqueña is my choice for best beer, which is lager. Arequipeña, is similar to Cuzqueña but from Arequipa. San Juan, from Pucallpa is the only beer brewed in Peru’s Amazon. For dark beer there isn’t much option. Cuzqueña has a Malta, which is a very sweet, German style beer.
The Andes’ favorite is chicha, a drink made from fermented corn. It was a ceremonial drink for the Incas, and still plays a central role in Andean festivities. It is served in two ways. The first chicha de jora, is the vomit colored and tasting fermented drink. Personally, I can’t stomach it. The second, chicha morada, is made from purple corn and is much better. It isn’t alcoholic and tastes a bit like grape juice.
In the jungle there is masato, which is chewed up and spitted out manioc that is fermented is a favorite for people of the jungle. It is alcoholic and the taste is not nearly as bad as it sounds.
Aguardiente is sugar cane alcohol, the strong local firewater. I once saw 3 liters of it one time for 10 soles. It is very strong. It is often mixed with jungle roots and plants to make different drinks such as Chuchuhuasi.
Did you know? During the days of the California Gold rush, it was easier to ship Pisco up the coast than to get whisky from the east. Therefore, drinking pisco became a habit of many miners.
Did you know? The origin of Pisco has been a matter of debate between many Peruvians and Chileans for years. In 2005 however, the World Intellectual Property Organization recognized Peru as the birthplace of the spirit.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.