15th May, 2013 by Andy Young
A brewery in Bolivia has developed an innovative solution to the problem of altitude sickness – coca beer, which is brewed using the same leaves from which cocaine is derived.
With many of Bolivia’s main cities, including Sucre and La Paz, situated at high altitude visitors can often suffer the sickness, known locally as “soroche“.
Many people living along the Andes mountains have chewed on coca plant leaves to deal with the altitude and visitors to cities such as La Paz, which is located 3,600 metres above sea level, often rest and drink coca tea to deal with soroche.
But Cerveceria Vicos, a brewery based in the city of Sucre, has developed a coca beer called Ch’ama, which is made from malt, yeast, hops and soaked coca leaves, with no additives or preservatives.
Cerveceria Vicos owner and manager Victor Escobar, who claims the beverage is an “energising” tonic, told AFP: “This is a highly fermented white beer with 5% abv — unfiltered, unpasteurized — and has the moderate aroma, colour and flavour of coca leaf and hops.”
To produce the beer the brewery soaks the coca leaves in water before adding malted barley and hops, this mixture is then fermented for 20 days before being bottled.
According to AFP, Cerveceria Vicos produces 1,000 litres of coca beer a day and retails for up to $3.60 per bottle. The beer is sold in Bolivia and in towns just across the borders with Peru and Chile.
The symptoms of altitude sickness generally start when people travel to above 2,400 metres and include headache, fatigue, stomach illness, dizziness and sleep disruption, exercise can make the symptoms worse.