A Beer Drinker's Guide to Peru

Lima - pisco sours, football bar & a cat park
Football bar in Lima. Crystal Luxmore / Flickr / CC BY 2.0    

While pisco is Peru’s national drink and certainly claims more plaudits than Peru’s frankly average mainstream beers, it can’t match cerveza in terms of sheer popularity. In Peru, beer is the drink of the masses: it’s cheap, it’s plentiful, and it’s communal.

The Price

The most common way to buy a beer in Peru, in both stores and bars, is to purchase a large bottle normally containing 620 to 650 milliliters (21 ounces) of beer. If you’re drinking in a group, the bottle is shared between the assembled people.

Small bottles (310 ml) and cans (355 ml) are also available. Some bars also sell draft (draught) beer known as chopp (on tap from a keg).

The average price of a 650 ml bottle is about S/.6.00 ($1.50). The price varies -- sometimes greatly -- depending on location and the type of establishment from which you’re buying your beer.

If you buy a beer in a bar or restaurant near Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, Lima, you might pay S/.7.00 for a small 310 ml bottle. In a small store in a regular Peruvian town, a large 650 ml bottle might cost you S/.4.50. It’s a huge difference, so pick your drinking spots carefully if you’re traveling in Peru on a budget.

Here’s one thing you need to remember: whether you’re buying bottles in a small store or a large supermarket, the listed price is for the beer itself and does not include the glass bottle. Some stores charge as much as S/.1 extra per bottle, which is refunded when you return the bottles. If you already have some bottles lying around, you can simply hand them over to the shopkeeper instead of paying the additional charge (in other words, a straight bottle swap).

Popular Beer Brands

Despite some fierce brand loyalties among Peruvians, there isn’t exactly a major battle of the beers going on in Peru. That’s because the same company -- Backus -- owns all the major brands.

Backus is the largest brewery in Peru and a subsidiary of the Anheuser-Busch InBev, one of the largest brewers in the world. Backus produces all of the most popular beers in Peru, including:

  • Pilsen Callao
  • Cosqueña
  • Cristal
  • Pilsen Trujillo
  • Backus Ice
  • Arequipeña
  • San Juan

Pilsen Callao, Cusqueña, and Cristal are the three most popular beers in Peru. In terms of quality, most Peruvians go for either Pilsen Callao or Cusqueña, with Cristal sometimes thrown into the mix. Cusqueña also produces a red lager, a wheat beer, and a cerveza negra (black beer).

Brand loyalty is often tied in with regional loyalties: drinking Pilsen Trujillo in Trujillo, for example, or Arequipeña in Arequipa. Soccer-related considerations also affect brand loyalty, including club sponsorship deals and even the naming of teams -- take, for example, Sporting Cristal.

Regional brands not produced by Backus include the Iquiteña and Ucayalina beers, both brewed by the Cervecería Amazónica in Iquitos.

The Rise of Craft Beer

Since about 2012, craft breweries have been popping up across Peru. There are now more than 20 professional craft breweries in the country, including Nuevo Mundo and Barbarian in Lima, Sierra Andina in Huaraz, and Cerveza Zenith and the Sacred Valley Brewing Company in Cusco.

Beer aficionados should keep an eye out for these craft beers, many of which are world-class. You'll normally find them on sale in bottles or on tap in the bars of Peru's larger or more tourist-orientated cities.

Traditional Beer Drinking Customs

Whether you’re sat at a table in a bar, huddled in a group near a disco dance floor or partaking in an impromptu drinking session on a street corner, you might find yourself drinking in the traditional Peruvian style.

The most notable aspect of this drinking custom is the use of one glass among the gathered group, which is passed from person to person.

To explain the process, imagine Javier and Paolo are knocking back a few beers in a group of five -- with one bottle of beer and one glass:

  • Javier fills the glass then passes the bottle to Paolo (sitting next to him). Paolo waits with the bottle in hand while Javier drinks.
  • Javier quickly drains the glass before flicking the froth from the glass onto the ground (this is standard procedure).
  • Javier then passes the glass to Paolo (the bottle holder).
  • Paolo takes the glass and refills it before passing the bottle to the next person. He then drains the glass, flicks out the froth and passes it to the person holding the bottle.
  • The bottle is passed around -- followed by the one glass -- until the beer is finished (at which point someone will normally buy another bottle).

It’s not the most hygienic way of drinking, but it does promote a communal drinking spirit. The glass moves around quite quickly, making it easy to lose track of how much you’ve actually drunk. The speed of drinking also makes rapid inebriation a distinct possibility...

Drinking Laws

The minimum legal drinking age in Peru is 18 (according to Law 28681). In reality, this law is frequently ignored by both drinkers and vendors, as well as those charged with enforcing the law. Many shopkeepers are happy to sell beer to kids as young as 13, while many police officers will happily ignore even the most persistent infringements of the legal drinking age.

One other notable drinking law is the Ley Seca (literally “dry law”), a law used during national elections. The law bans the sale of alcohol for a few days before and during elections, presumably in an attempt to promote clear-headedness and general order throughout the country.

Drinking-Related Risks

Apart from the risk of getting drunk and being mugged on the way back to your hotel, one other factor to guard against when drinking is the presence of peperas in Peru. Peperas are typically young women aged between 14 and 25 who target men in bars and clubs with the aim of spiking their drinks. When the target is unconscious, the pepera robs him of all his cash and valuables. Not good.