Brewery: Union de Cervecerias Peruanas Backus y Johnston, Lima (not Cusco), Peru
|Still Life with Bottle, Glass, and Aji Peppers (J. Rossiter, 2012)|
Cusqueña, one of the leading Crap National Lagers of Peru, originally hails from the Andean city of Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire. The Incas, despite all their prowess in empire building, architecture, and potato cultivation, did not have a writing system. Instead, they communicated ideas with quipu, which were series of knotted cords used for counting.
|The Incas built this, but couldn't figure out writing.|
Since they didn’t have a writing system, the conquistadores had to listen carefully to what the Incas were saying and write it down using whatever letters sounded about right (it’s called transliteration). At first, Cusco was spelled Qosqo, or sometimes Qusqu, and then later Cuzco and Cusco. Since the beer is simply named for the city, it could have been called Qosqoeña, or Qusqueña, or, if not for smallpox and horses, whatever the Incas themselves called someone or something from their resplendent capital. Who knows? Whatever the case, it would have sounded pretty exotic.
|Pretty exotic nonetheless: an embossed bottle cap.|
The Incas didn’t have a written language but, as I said, they were pretty nifty architects. They built Machu Picchu and all kinds of other ingenious structures, including a wall in Cusco featuring a single stone with twelve sides: la piedra de los doce ángulos. As far as individual masonry stones are concerned, it’s rather famous, and the folks at Backus and Johnston (least Peruvian names EVERRRR!) have engraved its image onto the Cusqueña bottle.
|If you squint, you can see the "stone of 12 angles" in the bottle on the left. Don't bother counting: it has twelve sides (thanks, website!)|
The Incas did not, however, have barley or hops. They did have a beer made from maize called chicha, which is still available in Peru today, but I’ll stick with the modern stuff. Cusqueña is exactly what you’d think it would be: a typical pale lager that goes splendidly, if cheaply, with the spicy food typical of Peruvian cuisine (like those bad-ass orange peppers in the picture up top). At least it doesn’t bait you with pretense, like Backus and Johnston’s other popular Crap National Lager, Cristal, which tastes nothing like the champagne (not that I’d know).
|Cristal champagne, from France: $200 a bottle. Cristal cerveza, from Peru: $1.16 a bottle.|