A Bolivian brewer has come up with an innovative solution for quenching thirst and coping with altitude sickness: coca beer, based on the same leaf used to make cocaine.
The beer in question is called Ch’ama, or “Strength” in the Aymara language of the Lake Titicaca area natives. It is made from malt, yeast, hops and soaked coca leaves, with no additives or preservatives.
The beer is in demand among tourists “who want to try something new,” said Alejandra Orihuela, owner of a bar named K’umara (“Healthy” in Aymara).
She said that a group of German and American tourists liked it so much they came by several times a day for their coca beer, “as if it were breakfast and lunch.”
Coca beer has been produced since 2011 by Cerveceria Vicos, a brewery based in the southeastern city of Sucre.
“This is a highly fermented white beer with five percent alcohol content, unfiltered, unpasteurized, and has the moderate aroma, color and flavor of coca leaf and hops,” Vicos owner and manager Victor Escobar said.
He claims the beverage is an “energizing” tonic.
To produce Ch’ama coca beer, Escobar first soaks coca leaves in water, then adds malted barley and hops until the mix reaches its proper consistency. After a 20-day fermentation process, the concoction is bottled.
Cerveceria Vicos is a small brewery, producing 10 hectoliters of coca beer a day.
Retail prices vary, but Ch’ama beer sells for up to $3.60 per bottle. It is sold in Bolivia and towns just across the borders with Peru and Chile.