Ritual Beer Drinking in Peru

Throwing beer on to the floor is not the done thing in most bars in the world, unless you are in Peru that is. Footprint reader Michael Harrison shares a beer with the locals in Trujillo and talks about the country's fascinating drinking rituals.

Shutterstock/18919642/SteveEstvanik

I always try and find the most ‘local’ bars in any place I visit. These are not the ones that appear in the guidebooks as they are just that little bit ‘too ethnic’ to be attractive and, anyway, their character would be totally destroyed if they became the goal of visiting tourists.

One of my favourite finds was a small place behind one of the markets in Trujillo, Peru. I always knew where the entrance was when I came back to the city as just to the right of the door was one of the market rubbish skips which never smelt that bad, despite the heat.

Inside it was pitch black after coming in from the bright Pacific sun. Once your eyes became accustomed to the gloom what greeted you was a small, one room bar that was no bigger than 5 by 5 metres. In that space would be 5 or 6 low tables with equally low stools. At the back of the room there would be a counter where a fridge would store the cold beers. A gap in the wall would take you to a small walled off section which was the local convenience. This consisted of a trough and nothing else. We could say that this was a unisex toilet in the sense that only one sex ever used it.


It was here that I learnt to drink in the Peruvian way. This involved one very small glass (only a couple of mouthfuls) and however many bottles people wanted to buy, although only one bottle would be on the go at any one time. Sometimes in the centre of the table there was a small plastic bowl which would be used to collect the dregs (if no bowl existed then the floor was an adequate substitute).

What would happen was that the first to buy a bottle would fill the glass, raise it in greeting to the assembled company and then drink it down in one. The dregs would be shaken into the bowl (or the floor, especially if the session had been going on for some time) and then he would fill the glass and hand it to the next in the circle. The process would be repeated until the bottle was empty. Then a new bottle would be purchased. But it was here that a very important part of the ritual would be acted out.

However full the glass might be on emptying a bottle nobody in the group would ever pass a drink on to their neighbour unless they had taken, and been seen to take, some of the beer from the new bottle. And this was what I best liked about this process.

This was a demonstration of trust. I would trust you as you had already taken from the bottle from which you were expecting me to drink. For Peruvians, following this procedure meant they could always have faith in drinking with strangers.

However, with a gringo there was an added dimension. From my experience travelling in different parts of the world, those of us with a European background are often put to the test. We have a reputation of taking our own culture with us when we travel to exotic parts (just think of Double Diamond washing down a traditional Sunday lunch in Benidorm). It is always amusing to locals to see how far they can push the foreigner.

I had many such sessions in my time in Peru and learnt a lot by talking to ordinary people – I also got merry on more than one occasion. How different would my experience have been if I had refused the offer of joining a drinking group and just sat there alone with my personal glass?



Send a copy of your travel tale to online@footprinttravelguides.com - if we like it we will publish it on our website and send you a free travel guide of your choice!
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Peru Handbook

Peru is home to more archaeological sites than any other country in South America. However, with...

South American Handbook 2016

South America is epic. Home to the world's highest waterfall, the longest mountain range and the...

Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador Handbook

Tracing the range of the Andes - the geographical and cultural spine of South America - Peru,...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!
Read more...