What to Drink (and Not to Drink!) In Chile

clear rock glass filled with yellow liquid

There are a lot of different beverages in Chile, from wine to traditional drinks, from hand-crafted beers to extraordinary fresh fruit juices. So many to fit them all in this article, actually! Here are the most popular ones, and also, a couple that you probably should not try – unless you really have to!

It’s all about Pisco!

Have you heard of Pisco before? It’s Chile’s national alcohol, made of a distillate of grapes. It is produced in two countries, Peru and Chile – although the processes are quite different, and therefore, so is the taste! There is actually an ongoing commercial conflict between the two countries, both of them claiming that they invented Pisco! With anywhere between 35 and 45 degrees of alcohol, Pisco is usually not drunk alone, except for some premium brands. But it is the main ingredient for Chile’s favorite drink: Pisco sour.  

Pisco sour, Chile’s national drink – and my personal favorite!

You will find this drink everywhere in Chile, from the Atacama desert to Tierra de Fuego and Easter Island. There are different versions of it, but the basis is always the same: pisco, lemon juice, sugar and ice, all blended together. Some add gum or egg white to give it foam and a smoother texture, some replace sugar with honey, in the North, they sometimes add spices to it… But in any case, it’s fresh and delicious! Some restaurants also serve the lighter Chardonnay sour, or Pisco sour mixed with fruits. Blueberry Sour and Mango sour are two very tasty combinations. This cocktail is somewhat pricey, though.

Piscola, the Chilean version of Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre is rum with Coke and ice cubes. Piscola is Pisco with Coke and ice cubes. It’s the students’ and young adults’ favorite drink, because it’s cheaper and easy to prepare. Careful though: people serve typically a third to a half of pisco in the glass, so it’s actually quite strong. And if somebody asks you if you want your Piscola “con cariño”, it means “with a lot of pisco in it”. Piscola can also be prepared with Canada Dry or Sprite: in that case, it’s known as Piscola blanca.

La Serena Libre

Most Pisco in Chile comes from Elqui Valley, near the city of La Serena. This is also where papayas come from in the country. It just made sense to mix them together: La Serena Libre is a blend of one fourth of Pisco, three fourths of papaya juice, served very cold.

All the wine you might possibly want!

Chile is one of the largest producers of wine in the world, and while the prices remain quite reasonable, the overall quality has improved a lot in the past few decades.  

First of all, there is no bad wine in Chile!

In my personal experience, at least… Unlike many other countries, if you buy a bottle of wine for the equivalent of 3 dollars at the supermarket, it will still be good to drink. Not great, sure, but perfectly drinkable. That’s because of the great climate we have here. And if you can put 15 bucks, you have something really nice already! Reds are great, whites as well. Rosés, not quite there yet. And sparkling wines are getting better every year. Anything starting at 7 dollars is pretty decent in sparking.

Second of all, there is the Carménère!

Ah, le Carménère! Chile’s most emblematic wine variety, and also my personal favorite. Originally from Bordeaux, France, this type of grape was entirely killed by the bug of phylloxera in France in the 1850’s. After that, all the vintners and winemakers there thought it had gone extinct. However, Carménère was found back in Chile in 1994: it appears that just before the vines died in France, some plants were shipped to Santiago, where they got mixed up with Merlot and completely forgotten. But now that we have found it back, Carménère has become the flagship of Chilean wines. So that’s definitely the first one you should try here!

If you are in Chile in September, try Chicha…

Chicha is a type of wine that is traditionally served during the National Holidays, in September. Actually, it doesn’t even qualify as wine: it’s merely grape juice that has been fermented for a few days in bottles, so it is still very sweet, and low in alcohol.

…And also try Pipeño

Pipeño is the other typical wine-ish drink for that time of the year. I say “wine-ish” because just like chicha, it is a grape juice that has had a rather short fermentation time. However, it is fermented enough to have a decent degree of alcohol. It’s typically made white grapes, still has a certain sweetness, and is served cold.

There is beer… and there is beer!

You know what I mean? No? Well, what I mean is that there is cheap industrial beer, and then, there is handcrafted beer. Until the late 2000’s, there was almost no good beer in Chile, except for the two brands Austral and Kunstmann, founded in the South of the country by German brewmasters. But now, there are probably hundreds of small, family-owned breweries that produce a great variety of beers, from IPA to Lager to stouts. Kross 5 is probably the golden standard in Chile nowadays, but brands such as D’Olbek (from Belgians settled in Patagonia) or Guayacan, from the North, are equally good.

You can also find some really nice handcrafted cider in the South of Chile. However, this is still a budding industry and I could not recommend any brand in particular.

Some typical cocktails… Yummy!

Terremoto, the drink that will make you lose your balance

Chile is prone to earthquakes. And because Chileans have a good sense of humor, they have created a drink called… earthquake, the famous Terremoto. If you are in Santiago, you should go to the popular bar La Piojera, near the Central Market, to go and try it. It’s a mixture of white wine (or Pipeño), pineapple ice cream, grenadine, and fernet, served in large plastic glasses. It’s very sweet, and you can get drunk easily without even noticing! And because big earthquakes are typically followed by smaller (but equally dangerous!) replicas, there is also a drink called Replica, served in a smaller glass of course, but is stronger, as it is a mix of wine, beer, pisco and ice.

Vaina, the classic

Before Pisco sour, Vaina was the most traditional drink in Chile. This one is made with fortified wine (like Oporto), Cognac, cacao liquor, either gum or egg white, and cinnamon powder. There is a Christmas-y feel to it, but don’t let it fool you: it is strong in alcohol. And it is consumed all year long, although a bit more in Winter time.

A Monkey Tale for Christmas

Cola de Mono has a very strange name for a drink: Monkey tale. There are several explanations to explain it, but it’s too long to tell them here. This one is similar in taste and appearance to Vaina, but lighter, as it contains mostly milk, along with pisco, coffee, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and orange peel. This is a typical Christmas drink here, the Chilean equivalent of eggnog. And for New Year’s Eve, Chileans have Ponche a la romana, which is sparkling wine served with pineapple ice cream – kinda like the Terremoto, but lighter and more elegant.

Many combinations of wine and fruit

There are several recipes that mix wine with fruits in Chile. The most common is Borgoña (Spanish for Burgundy – picture below), which is red wine mixed with a fair amount of strawberries. Then you have Navegado, which is red wine boiled together with oranges and brown sugar, usually drunk warm: great stuff for cold weather! On the other hand, for hot Summer days, you have Melvin, the nickname for Melon con vino: basically, you open a honeydew melon, take out the seeds and pour white wine or Pipeño in it, and that’s it! Finally, there is Guindado, which is sour cherries fermented with alcohol and sugar – probably the most popular of the numerous varieties of fruit liqueurs produced in the countryside. 

Heaven for fresh juice lovers

It’s not all about alcohol, is it? Chile has the great advantage to host a wide variety of climates, which means that we can have a great variety of fruits: tropical, continental, cold-climate fruits… there is a bit of everything. And it’s very common here to have freshly-pressed juices at restaurants, cafés, or even in the street – you will see many people with a caddie full of oranges in the streets of Santiago, pressing the fruits right there in front of you and serving them fresh. So if you love fresh fruit juices, this is Heaven!

Depending on where you are in the country and the time of the year, you may find juices made of banana, strawberry, raspberry, pineapple, mango, papaya, apple, kiwi, peach, watermelon, cantaloupe… But there are some flavors that are definitely more rare and flavorful. In the North and Center of the country, you will find prickly pear (chirimoya in Spanish – picture above). When they are well ripe, the taste is like a mix of banana and pear together. Really delicious! In the South, you will find blueberry juice, blackberry juice, and even rhubarb or sarsaparilla.

The best lemonades I’ve ever had!

But my absolute favorite here, is the real fresh lemonade: freshly squeezed lemon, a few leaves of mint, and grated ginger. With a hint of honey, even better! Some places have it with basil leaves instead of the mint, which gives a nice kick to it. And because of the ginger, it feels a little strong, so it really feels like you are having a cocktail, although there is no alcohol in it.

Those drinks that you may want to avoid…

This is of course very subjective, you may very well like these drinks – even the very last one on the list. I let you judge by the description of each of them:

Mote con huesillo: Drink or dessert?

Actually, maybe you should try this one at least once. Chileans consider it a refreshing beverage, but to me (and most foreigners who live in Chile), this is more like a dessert. Check this out: it’s a cooked peach plunged back into its own juice, along with wheat or barley. That’s a lot of solid parts and sweetness right there to make it a refreshing drink, don’t you think?

Jote and Fanshop, or how to waste wine and beer… 

OK, I’m obviously biased here, because I was raised in a family that produces wine and has respect for it. So for us, mixing red wine with Coke like they do here with the Jote is unthinkable. But it’s popular in Chile, so I had to at least mention it. Jote, by the way, means “vulture”. As for Fanshop, it consists in blending Fanta with beer and serving it ice-cold. For me, that’s definitely a no!

Malta con huevos: the weirdest one

It’s not that it tastes bad… but it’s a weird recipe: Take some malt beer and an egg, blend them together, then add some cinnamon and vanilla. That’s it! Again, the taste isn’t bad, but it’s a bit strange. And definitely not the drink you want to have if you are on a diet!

Chilean Michelada: careful with the spice!

OK, I’m obviously biased here (again!), because I don’t like Michelada. But the Chilean version of it is even worse, in my opinion: on the rim of the glass, they put a mix of salt and Merken, a dried red pepper from the South of Chile. To me, that’s definitely a no-go!

Araucano: Bitter and cleaner!

That’s a drink Chileans have at the end of a very heavy meal, when they know they will need some help to digest everything. Araucano is a liqueur of macerated herbs from the South of Chile. It’s awfully bitter, but it serves its purpose and will help you go to the bathroom. Cheers to that!