South America takes its beer very seriously, and whilst there has been a varying degree of impact from craft beer on the continent (subscribe to check out the upcoming Top 10 Craft Beers in South America!), each country has up to a handful of strong national beers, steeped in tradition and heritage. We’ve compiled our top 5 national beers, so you know where to get started when you touch down in South America.
If we are talking about tradition, no beer exemplifies this more than Peru’s Cusqueña. With a heritage going back 110 years, it was founded by German immigrants in the country’s – and the Inca’s – cultural heart, Cusco. A recent packaging re-design has seen the brand celebrate the Inca heritage with a traditional pattern design and the famous Machu Picchu scene pictured above the brands logo. Priding itself on using 100% Peruvian grains and the highest quality glacial water from the Andes, Cusqueña oozes premiumness.
The brand’s classic lager ‘Dorada’ is the most widely available beer, however, they also offer a Red Ale (Roja), Dark Ale (Negra) and Wheat Beer (Trigo). The wheat beer wasn’t quite reflective of a traditional German style, though the red and golden versions were top notch!
Much like Cusqueña, Club Colombia fills the role of the premium beer in the market, sporting a traditional design with all the cues of quality. They also offer a series of flavours – with red and dark both popular. Drunk by both males and females, young and old alike, it evokes the essence of Colombia in a rich-tasting yet easy to drink beer. I’d recommend starting off with the Dorada and moving on to the Roja for a little more flavour exploration.
Just south of the border from Colombia lies Ecuador, a country often over-shadowed by its northern neighbour and passed over by many travellers. From most perspectives (including beer), it is a country that shouldn’t be missed out on. Some great craft beers coming from the capital Quito – coupled with the national gem that is PIlsener – mean there is plenty to keep you occupied. Pilsener and Pilsener Light constitute around 90% of the beer sold in Ecuador, with the Light version dominating the warmer coastal areas and regular the highlands.
Unlike in many parts of the world, here light beer doesn’t carry the association of being a female-only drink. And whilst the Pilsener lager is a good one, the Pilsener Light nails refreshment without compromising on taste… Again, unlike most light beers.
A second choice from Colombia, Aguila has got to be my preferred beer of South America when it comes to the mainstream and not-so-premium beers. Particularly in the warmer northern coast of the country, you might be better off going for an Aguila Light for that bit of extra refreshment, but wherever you find yourself, an Aguila always goes down smoothly. It’s both the official and unofficial beer of football – it sponsors Colombian football leagues as well as the national team – and is embraced nationwide in support of ‘La Selección Colombiana’ during World Cups and major international tournaments. Much like the national team’s football kit, it’s hard to miss with its famous golden yellow branding plastered wall-to-wall in most local bars.
Bolivia is a strange one for beer, and if you want to avoid drinking too much cactus, coca leaf or quinoa beer, you’re best sticking with the regional lagers. Whilst there are a few to choose from, most can’t be found too easily outside of their region, with Huari and Paceña the only really national beers available. And with Paceña, you can’t go far wrong. A more rounded and easy-to-drink beer than some of the others, I’d recommend this as your go-to during your Bolivian travels.