Nightlife, cocktails, and a trip down sugary lane

One of the most striking things about Chilean alcoholic drinks is the amount of sugar that gets packed into them. Whether ordering a piscola, jote, terremoto, or borgoña, the Chilean sweet tooth is ever-present and, I’m not a big fan of sugary treats, so drinking in Santiago is something that’s taken a fair bit of getting used to.

The terremoto comes packed with sweet, dessert wine and pineapple ice-cream. Heavy! The jote and the piscola are homages to the global triumphs of Coca Cola, and the borgoña is no doubt responsible for at least 50 percent of sugar sales across the country — and let it be known that I’m actually referring to icing sugar!

When I rolled up for my first night out at The Clinic Bar in Santiago Centro, I was invited by the bar staff to try my very first borgoña. Served up in a huge jug to share, similar in style to a serving of sangria, The Clinic’s borgoña is sickly-sweet and highly dangerous. The potent mix of red wine, strawberries, and icing sugar, makes the borgoña one of the best drinks to swallow when you’re looking to get tipsy as quickly as possible.

The terremoto is perhaps Chile’s most famous national beverage, and La Piojera is renowned for serving some of the best terremotos in town. Another of Chile’s deadly potions, the terremoto is a mixture of dessert wine, pineapple ice-cream, and either a shot of fernet or grenadine to top things off. 

La Piojera is the perfect environment in which to inspire a highly fuelled drinking session. It’s one of the liveliest “picadas” in the capital, jampacked with people who have only one goal in mind — to drink lots of terremotos. Be prepared to be squashed, to have to shout for attention at the bar, to drink standing up, and to sing along with the best of them as the evening chugs along. La Piojera closes before midnight though, which will probably be the best time to think about returning home anyway.

A continually contentious debate is whether or not the pisco sour is Chilean or Peruvian. Leaving this debate aside for now, the cocktail is a mix of pisco — the base liquor —and citrus juice additions. In Chile, the pica lime is the most traditional choice. But despite its name, the pisco sour is still pretty sweet, owing to the syrup that gets added. I was starting to think I wouldn’t be able to find any bitter-tasting cocktail in Santiago no matter how many days I dedicated to the task.

I tried my first piscola — sometimes referred to as “combinado nacional” — with family and friends as an entertaining start to lunch one day. A mixture of pisco and Coca Cola (although sometimes exchanged for another kind of soda), the piscola is yet another sweet cocktail to place high on the list of Chilean traditions to try. The jote is a similar idea, but this time the ingredients include Coca Cola with red wine. 

I’d recommend finding a quiet “picada” for your first jote experience. Better still, it would be great to visit a traditional club where they play “la rayuela” or “tejo” — a game similar in style to beach boules, in which the goal is to throw a lead cylinder as close to two lines marked out on a block of sand as possible — to sample your first jote. I visited the Club Tractores Amarillos in Lo Barnechea to try my hand at “rayuela” over a couple of jotes.

One exception to the rule would be the vaina —a coffee liqueur base, egg yolk, cacao, cognac, and… of course… sugar. Strangely enough, however, I really enjoyed my first vaina, although it may have had a lot more to do with where I drank my first vaina than with what was in my glass. I visited El Quitapena, on Recoleta 1480. The only day that El Quitapena doesn’t open is the 11th September in remembrance of the military coup of 1973. In fact, El Quitapena — literally meaning solace or comforter — has quenched the thirst of thousands over the past 80 years, opening its doors to those who need to drown their sorrows having attended a funeral in the General Cemetery Recoleta just a few doors away.

Even though the sweet traditions are definitely not my thing, there’s nothing which can be said against a glass of Chilean red, and that can be enjoyed in any bar or restaurant at any time, or even at home after a quick trip to the supermarket. Perfect!

About the Author:
Tracey Chandler is press and publicity manager for The Santiago Times and has worked as a freelance writer in Latin America since 2009. Originally from London, she left the UK in 2008 and has lived in Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile. She has written for over 15 different blogs/online magazines on subjects relating to Latin American travel and lifestyle. Contact her directly via with ideas for possible long-term partnerships and/or creative projects.