In Peru, Sharing Is Caring When It Comes To Drinking Beer

Peru claims fame for a lot of things, from Machu Picchu ruins to Rainbow Mountain, the Amazon rainforest, and the Cusco World Heritage site. That's before even considering Peru's diverse culinary scene, which, fortunately for thirsty travelers, includes Pisco sour cocktails. But beer? Yes, beer, with at least one curious custom involving its consumption. The term "sharing is caring" definitely rings true here, as drinking beer with comrades is apparently a communal-cup affair.

A long-held traditional custom called the beer circle plays out in countless taverns around the country, surprising even the most seasoned world visitors. Almost unheard of in Western culture, the Peruvian beer circle is an unspoken "beer contract" of sorts, in which a group of friends sit in some semblance of a circle around a table. They agree to share a single bottle of beer, drinking from a single communal glass, one single person at a time. The bottle is typically large, holding about 24 ounces, but the glass is small for quick drinking

The person holding the glass at any given time must completely empty its contents before passing it to the next imbiber. And whoever drinks the final bit of beer from the bottle buys the next one. It could potentially go on for the entire evening, with plenty of time for catch-up and conversation while waiting for the well-used glass to make its rounds. It may be hard to picture the scenario, so here's a quick primer on how it all progresses.

Peruvian beer circle etiquette

A Peruvian beer circle comes with many understood elements, at least if you're from Peru. For the rest of us, it goes something like this: One person orders, and pays for, the first large bottle of beer, most often a national brand such as Cusqueña or Pilsen Callao, or potentially even fermented chicha. It arrives with a small glass. The initiator fills the glass and passes the bottle to the next person, then quickly drinks the beer, brushing off any frothy remnants before handing over the empty glass. The second person likewise fills the glass from the bottle of beer, then in turn passes the bottle to the next person in the circle before drinking from the same glass. The routine continues over and over as the bottle and glass make their way around the circle.

That little glass is getting a lot of use, as you can imagine, but the bottle eventually empties out. That's when the person holding an empty bottle buys a new one — and the sharing circle continues into the night. Another way to approach it is for all males involved to split the final cost of the shared experience when the bar tab arrives.

For the sake of unity, camaraderie, and communal trust, the beer circle fulfills its purpose. It's an honored tradition that can be replicated in your own favored drinking spot, though there might be some mental adjustment involved for people unaccustomed to the idea.