With Hispanic Heritage Month upon us, how could we forget to talk about one of the most important (and tastiest) parts of a country’s heritage—national drinks! From bitter, to sour, to fruity, to earthy, here’s a compilation of popular liquors and beverages from each country in Latin America. We’re not saying you shouldn’t delve into history, art, and film as you commemorate and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, but what kind of celebration doesn’t involve a drink or two?
Argentina: Fernet with Coke
Fernet is Argentina’s go-to liquor. With herbs and spices like rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron, it’s much earthier and más fuerte than the other boozy drinks you’ll find on this list. Although originally Italian, fernet came to Argentina as part of the waves of Italian immigration beginning in the late 19th century, and now Buenos Aires boasts the only Fernet production facility outside of Milan. It’s most common cocktail pairing? Just pour over ice and stir with some coke. Or check out these more complex concoctions from Serious Eats.
Even if you’ve been hesitant to try pronouncing the name, you’ve probably at least heard of the caipirinha if you haven’t tried one for yourself. While the ingredients are simple — rum, sugar, and lime juice — a true caipirinha requires very precise ingredients. The secret is that the rum must be cachaça—Brazil’s national spirit, which is made from fermented sugarcane rather than molasses like a traditional rum. Brazil has been enjoying this variant of rum since the 1500s, when the Portuguese first arrived on its shores.
Bolivia: Singani and Chuflay
Similar to the more widely known pisco from Peru and Chile, Bolivia’s national liquor is also derived from grapes. The difference is that Singani comes only from muscat grapes found in the Bolivian Andes. Gaining a newfound popularity at the time of the filming of the Motorcycle Diaries in Bolivia, international consumption of this 500-year-old liquor could make for a massive boost in the Bolivian economy. Chuflay is a simple cocktail made with singani, lime, and ginger ale, ginger beer, or lemon lime soda.
Chile and Peru: Pisco Sour
It’s hotly debated as to whether the pisco sour originates from Chile or Peru, and both countries claim this cocktail as their national drink. While the question of pisco’s true origin is not likely to be answered anytime soon, both countries can agree on is the fact that pisco production dates back to the early 1600s when Spanish settlers first began concocting this grape brandy similar to grappa. Pisco sours came a bit later—in the 1920s as an alternative to the whiskey sour.
One key difference—while Chile ages the liquid in oak barrels, Peru ages it in clay pots. The proportion of ingredients are a bit different (pisco, lime or lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters) but the main difference is said to be that the Peruvian version is topped with an egg white, while the Chilean is not. We decided that perhaps the best way to solve this debate is with a taste test—try this Peruvian version or this Chilean recipe and decide for yourself!
This is the land where aguardiente—literally firewater—is king with that immediately recognizable signature bottle of aguardiente antioqueño. The anise-flavored liquor made of distilled sugarcane molasses can be a bit overwhelming taken straight up, but nonetheless, this is how it’s most often consumed. If you are looking to try it in a cocktail, don’t worry! You still have some mixology options.
Costa Rica: Guaro
Costa Rica’s take on aguardiente is called guaro. It’s easy to enjoy by mixing with a favorite fruit juice, or even just enjoying it straight up! The Cacique brand from Colombia’s national liquor group offers some creative mixology suggestions, like the nieve de cacique with an intense and diverse combination of ingredients like mint, grenadine, and coconut.
2016’s 10th most popular cocktail in the world comes from Cuba—the mojito. It traces its origins way back to the European seafaring days on the Caribbean Sea during the missions of Sir Francis and Richard Drake in the 1500s when it was simply a crude concoction made with aguardiente. Slaves working in the sugar cane fields in the 1800s first started calling the aguardiente-based beverage a mojito.
At the time of World War II, Ernest Hemingway popularized the cocktail at his go to restaurant—La Bodeguita del Medio, and the aguardiente was replaced with rum. You’ll find mojitos at every corner and city in Cuba, but if you want something truly special, stop by the classic Hotel Sevilla in Old Havana—they’re credited with serving the world’s very first modern mojito.
Dominican Republic: Mama Juana
A mix of herbs, tree bark, honey, rum, and red wine, Mama Juana dates back to the days of the indigenous Taino people in the Dominican Republic. They’re said to have perfected the proportions of herbs which give this beverage healing and aphrodisiac properties. If you’re not up for brewing this yourself, you can always try this all natural version with no artificial colors or flavors from Candela.
Ecuador: Canelazo and Espiritu del Ecuador
Ecuador shares some of its favorite drinks with its neighboring countries—warm and cinnamon infused canelazo is enjoyed in Quito and the highlands as well as in Colombia, while seco, guarapo, aguardiente, and of course, anything rum based is enjoyed on the Caribbean coast. But perhaps the most Ecuadorian liquor, at least in name, is the Espiritu del Ecuador. Though it was only created in 1992, the fruit-based liquor was created to embody Ecuador’s spirit in two senses—both its go-to liquor as well as its inner soul.
El Salvador: Tic Tack
Known as the national liquor of El Salvador since 1954, Tic Tack is a sugarcane-based vodka with a slightly lower alcohol content than your traditional vodka. You can use it in the fruity, berry-infused “chichimeko” which won El Salvador’s national cocktail contest back in 2009.
While there isn’t one drink that stands out, Guatemala has a bit of something for everyone. Beer aficionados can enjoy Guatemala’s most popular lager beer—Gallo—which accounts for 80% of beer sales in Guatemala. Its strong family roots and familiar branding have kept the company going strong since the 1890s. When the Pope visited Guatemala in 2002, Gallo even helped to sponsor his visit.
Liquor lovers can enjoy Guatemala’s signature aguardiente—Quetzalteca—in a simple concoction with their soda of choice. The original contains notes of pear, apple, and vanilla, or there’s the rosa de jamaica variant if you’re feeling more adventurous. For the rum fans, Zacapa is the country’s national liquor distributor specializing in rum, and their website features a wealth of tempting concoctions.
Dating back to the 18th century from the coastal Garifuna community, Honduras is known for the gifiti. In addition to distilled liquor, it includes compounds and herbs like chamomile, black pepper, cloves, flowers, and seeds. And it isn’t just used to get the party started—it’s also said to have natural healing properties and work as an aphrodisiac.
Mexicans take their tequila seriously—this perhaps became most clear to me on my first AeroMexico flight. The flight attendant was perusing the aisle with the beverage cart asking passengers if they would like a drink refill. Seeing a bottle full of a yellow colored liquid, I asked for some white wine but was informed that the bottle was actually tequila, which she had been pouring neat into almost every passenger’s glass as she walked down the plane.
When consumed in cocktail form, the margarita reigns in Mexican restaurants across the US as well as popular tourist beach towns in Mexico, but it is the fizzy, grapefruit-based Paloma that is the drink of choice for locals. This should help to ease you into tequila so that you’re ready to down the tequila straight up on your flight to Mexico. Check out this easy and quick recipe from the New York Times.
In 2006, Flor de Caña—Nicaragua’s 125 year old national rum distillery—sponsored a contest to create a national Nicaraguan cocktail. The winner was the Macuá, a sweet and refreshing concoction made with simple syrup, guava, orange, and lemon juices.
Seco is an 80 proof clear liquor derived from sugarcane. Varela Hermanos makes the most widely consumed variant of this liquor, called Seco Herrerano. Originating from the valley of Pese in Panama, cocktails made with this liquor are usually quite simple—the seco con vaca is mixed with either milk or coconut milk and the Chichita Panama is served with grapefruit and pineapple juice on the rocks. If you’re looking for something more sophisticated, these 3 Panamanian restaurants have crafted some more complex cocktails in the hopes of recreating seco’s image across the country and abroad.
Brought to Paraguay during the time of the Jesuits in the 18th century, caña is created by distilling honey and sugarcane and then aging it with incense and oak. Just outside of the capital of Asuncion, you can visit several production sites. If you haven’t heard much about this national liquor, Paraguay’s tourism board has plans to change that—and learn from Mexico’s lead to make it as popular and sought after as tequila.
Puerto Rico: Piña Colada
This is the land of the piña colada—and perhaps the first place where I learned to really enjoy this frozen drink made of pineapple juice, coconut milk, and rum, which can often be overly sweet and leave you with a brain freeze. Its origins are controversial and the earliest record makes for a real life Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s stated that pirate Roberto Cofresi served this to his men at sea at the turn of the 19th century, before being perfected by a bartender at the Caribe Hilton in the 1950s. Though the restaurant Barrachina also holds its ground and claims to be the birthplace of this drink.
In 1978, it officially became Puerto Rico’s national drink. Barrachina’s recipe is a secret, but this recipe from The Spruce will be just as enjoyable, and get you just as tipsy.
While the tannat grape is a national symbol in Uruguay, liquors based off of this grape are relatively new to the market. If you’re more of a traditionalist, perhaps you’ll opt to stick to Uruguayan wines made from the tannat grape—what Bloomberg calls “the ultimate big red wine for steak.”
Venezuela: Ponche Crema
Dating back to the early 1900s, Venezuela’s ponche crema is a creamy egg-nog like recipe enjoyed during the holiday season. Although it is typically made from scratch at home, the original is still manufactured by Venezuela’s Complejo Inudstrial Licorero del Centro. You can try your hand at making the classic version, or be more daring with a twist from the factory’s revamped recipes.