If you see a stick with a scraggly red piece of flag hanging from a building in Peru, it means you’ve just found the local brewhouse.

Before we began backpacking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, we spent a day exploring the Sacred Valley. It was all part of the same tour package, so it was just me, my best friend Colina, our local guide Jhon, plus a driver.

Exploring ancient ruins while enjoying beautiful countryside is exactly the sort of thing I’d normally do on my own. So it was interesting to experience it on a schedule as part of a tour package instead. But because our group was so small — just the two of us — we could go at whatever pace we wanted, and information from our guide was more like a naturally evolving conversation than a rote script.

That’s how we found out about the Ahausi.

Ahausi is a Quechua word, the local language of mountain Peruvians, and it means Aha House. According to Jhon, anyone can make alcohol in Peru — it’s not regulated by the government. And high up in the Andes, the drink of choice is one called Aha. It varies widely, but is typically a low alcohol content beer (only about 3% or less). It’s made from corn and tradionally fermented with the help of human saliva. According to folk legend its name comes from a bottoms-up tradition of drinking it: after downing a liter all at once the natural response is, “aah.” Hence Aha. If you are talking to a non-mountain Peruvian who doesn’t speak Quechua, you’ll more likely encounter its Spanish form: chicha and chicherias. It’s the same thing.

Since anybody can brew Aha, teeny bars are everywhere in rural Peru, often out of people’s own homes. Ahausi are denoted with a red flag hanging from a stick outside a home. Some of the flags were crisp and official looking, while others were simply a tattered and stained strip of red cloth or red plastic bag waving in the wind.

Photo via Nick Jewell

Regardless of the type, Ahausi are everywhere — large towns, tiny roadside villages, even on the Inca Trail itself!

Porters stopped to take breaks at shaded stands to refuel on Aha before carrying on with their grueling work; porters carry up to 20 kilos (or about 45 lbs) while hiking incredible speeds at altitudes between 10,000 and 14,000 feet! Even though the porters seem well accustomed to the drink, it’s not recommended for hikers because alcohol has a stronger effect at high altitudes and can cause or worsen altitude sickness.

Related reading:

29 first impressions of Peru

Machu Picchu is best done on foot 

Cool off in Peru like a local with this fruity drink

— Laura Rowley

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Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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