Peruvian Pisco
Food & Drink, South America, Travel Tips

12 Must-Try South American Drinks

Ever since traipsing all over South America for the first time in 2013 I’ve been dying to write this post.

You may already be familiar with my serious wine obsession, but given the right mood and circumstances, I can be a real beer and cocktail lover, too.

As I made my way through 6 South American countries last year I found a little bit of everything to love.

Here’s my list of the South American drinks you’d be crazy not to try on your next trip.

1. Aguardiente

This anise-flavored liquor (whose name translates roughly to “fire water”) is considered the national beverage of Colombia.  At 29% alcohol by volume, it’s typically taken as a shot followed by…nothing.  Admittedly, I hated Aguardiente on my first visit to Colombia, but since returning I’ve grown to appreciate it, perhaps even enjoy it a little bit (and how relaxed it makes me feel afterward).  Colombians are known to kill bottles upon bottles of the stuff in a single sitting, and it’s unlikely you’ll make it out of the country without being offered a shot or two.  It’d be impolite to refuse in such a situation, so bottoms up!

South American drinks you must try during your travels: Aguardiente, a local spirit from Colombia

The sugar-free version can save you from a nasty hangover (Source)

2. BBC Chapinero Porter

There’s an increasing market for craft beers in Colombia these days, and breweries like Bogotá Beer Company are ready to meet consumer demands.  BBC is probably the most well-known brewery in the country and have given themselves the designation of “biggest little brewery in Colombia.”  The Chapinero Porter even won the title of World’s Best Porter 2013, awarded by the World Beer Awards.  It’s a favorite of mine, but their seasonal beers are delightful as well.

3. Caipirinha

During my stint in Venezuela, we were lucky enough to be a hop, skip, and a jump from the Brazilian border.  This meant easy access to Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha.  Made with the local spirit cachaça (from distilled sugarcane juice), lime juice and sugar, the Caipirinha is a refreshing drink that’ll also get you schnockered if you’re not careful.  Cachaça is so inexpensive (about $4 for 750ml) that bartenders have been known to be heavy-handed with their pours (not that I’m complaining or anything).  Want to make your own? Here’s a video tutorial on how to make the perfect Caipirinha.

South American drinks you must try during your travels: Caipirinha from Brazil

Caipirinha ingredients (Source)

4. Pisco Sour

The Pisco Sour is probably my favorite cocktail on this list.  Since pisco, a liquor made from distilled grapes, hails from either Peru or Chile depending who you ask, the origins of the Pisco Sour remain a mystery–both countries also claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink and to have invented it.  The cocktail is made by shaking egg white, lime juice and simple syrup over ice; the final touch is a splash of bitters on the final, frothy product.  I fell in love with this potent concoction while learning to make it in a bar in Paracas on Peru’s southern coast and have been passing my knowledge on to friends and family ever since.  Here’s the recipe I know and love.

5. Chilcano

Another refreshing, limey cocktail, the Chilcano is made with Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters, and a carbonated topper of your choice (ginger ale or Sprite are suitable options).  If you find yourself in Lima, Peru, head to the historical center of the city to a bar named El Cordano, a traditional 1920s saloon seemingly impervious to the effects of time; their Chilcanos and Pisco Sours are excellent.  If you want to make one yourself, here’s the best recipe I could find.

South American drinks you must try during your travels: Pisco Sour on the left, Chilcano on the right.

Cocktail cousins: Pisco Sour on the left, Chilcano on the right.

6. Piscola

Pisco mixed with cola.  Not much to explain here, but I find it to be a welcome alternative to a boring old rum and coke.  Add a squeeze of lime for a kiss of tartness.

7. Maracuyá Sour

A Maracuyá Sour is simply a Pisco Sour made with passionfruit (maracuyá) juice in place of lime juice.  A tad bit sweeter than a Pisco Sour (unless you’re using fresh passionfruit juice) but delicious all the same.  Make your own here.

8. Sierra Andina Inti Golden Ale

Colombia’s not the only country upping their craft beer game.  Sierra Andina is a brewing company based in Huaraz, a high-altitude city in northern Peru, that’s aiming to foster a sense of local identity and community with their high-quality brews.  The beers aren’t sold everywhere just yet, so if you stumble upon an Inti Golden Ale (or any of Sierra Andina’s beers, for that matter) be sure to give it a try!

9. Fernet Cola

Fernet is a bitter, aromatic liquor from Italy with a distinct anise seed flavor.  It’s wildly popular in Argentina, making it an inescapable part of a trip to South America.  It’s often served on its own as a digestif but is commonly mixed with cola as well.  In my experience, Fernet-fueled nights are always a little wild.  When making your own, 2oz cola to 1oz Fernet is standard.

South American drinks you must try during your travels: Fernet cola in Argentina

Fernet Cola (Source)

10. Mango Bellini

Mango purée in place of peach purée makes for a lovely tropical twist on the peachy Italian cocktail.  I’m never one to turn down a Prosecco-based drink; this one is the perfect brunch accompaniment.

11. Torrontés

This white grape variety produces what is arguably Argentina’s most distinctive wine–Argentina is the only country in the world to produce it.  I sampled this refreshing, fruity, and moderately acidic white wine during a tour of the Cafayate wine region of northwestern Argentina, and again at Bodega Alta Vista in Mendoza.  I found it highly drinkable despite being more of a red wine devotee myself.

South American drinks you must try during your travels: Torrontes wine from Argentina.

Tasting Torrontés in Argentina.

12. Malbec

Maybe this goes without saying, but a trip to Argentina would not be complete without sampling a local Malbec.  I found the Malbec I tasted during my travels to be far superior to any I’d had in the United States; it seems they’re hoarding all the good stuff and exporting the rest.  Paired with a perfectly cooked steak, this red wine will knock your platform sandals right off.

What are your favorite potent potables from South America?

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