Drinking like most things in PNG tends to be an expensive hobby, but one great way to cut down on cost, as well as get an authentic Mount Hagen local experience is to try drinking firewater in Papua New Guinea. In fact it is such a cool experience that they even have a song about it! But more about that later.
How much does it cost to drink in Papua New Guinea?
One thing that is most complained about in PNG is the cost of things. Beer even at a beer shop can cost up to $4, with liquor and the like costing far more. We came just after an election, which meant scant supply and high prices. We were quoted $180 for a bottle of Bundaberg for example.
It was then though that our wonderful local guide suggested not only getting some “firewater”, but also coming to her village to hang out, eat, drink and be merry.
Fire water though is much cheaper…
What is firewater in Papua New Guinea?
Call it what you want, firewater, moonshine, or as the locals say in tok-pisin paiya wara, this is good old fashioned moonshine! Apparently it is made from the left over from fruit, of which is plentiful in Mount Hagen and Papua New Guinea.
Obviously it is home-brew, so flavour, quality and indeed safety vary, but our local guides suggested they knew a good place to get it, so like everything in PNG we followed their advice.
The bottles we ended up getting worked out about $6 a litre, which when you keep in mind the price of beer worked out to be a bit of a bargain, but how good is it and what does it mean culturally in Papua New Guinea?
How much does Paia Wara cost in Papua New Guinea?
Paia Wara, or fire water in Papua New Guinea costs about 10 Kina for a 250 ml bottle of the stuff. This is about just over $1 and is enough to get you pretty well buzzed, when you consider this is 1/4 of what even one beer costs then its the best bang for your buck drinks wise in the country.
It is though technically illegal of varying quality and of course comes with some risk of blindness.
From what we could gather at least fire water in Papua New Guinea, or rather paiya wara has huge cultural importance in PNG. There’s a new song, which you can see below which celibates the drink, as well as talk of the dangers of kids drinking it, at least jokingly! This is currently THE song in PNG.
How does it taste? Well as an expert of the strange drinks of the world I feel I can be an expert on this, but lets deal with the cultural side of it it first.
And can you mix it! Yes and no, so we mixed it with both sprite and coke, which did a job, particularly the Sprite, but in my mind at least this should be drank neat!
Drinking Firewater in Papua New Guinea in 2023
When it comes to dining options and indeed bars in Mount Hagen town your options are a bit limited, mainly consisting of expat bars, high-end hotels and local nightclubs where safety can be an issue.
This led us to be invited to the village of our local guide Vivian, where the whole family would welcome us into the big communal hut, we would drink Papua New Guinean firewater and eat food – all good so far.
You can read about the Mount Hagen Festival 2022 here
Food wise we went for Kai Bar, which sells all manor of street food, inclusive of saveloy and chips! I will give this its own article later, but boy truly the bomb! We then took this to the village and started drinking the firmwara!
Proceedings were conducted by the head of the village who had 7 wives and over 50 children, with the overall atmosphere being extremely welcoming. Yes PNG is very tribal and yes there is violence, but people are people and this particular village was not only very welcoming, but a non-tribal mixed one. The night duly began with talking before turning into simply drinking firewater and dancing around, of course to the firewater song – among others.
How do you drink firewater in Papua New Guinea and how does it taste?
In may countries drinking from your own glass is just not a thing. In the Philippines for example the wine and a shot glass gets shared around, In Papua New Guinea the water bottle with the fire water in it gets passed around and you drink as much as you can manage – Covid friendly, no it is not, but hey at least we wear mask in the supermarket…….
You are though as I was consonantly told after my videos to mix Paia Wara, rather than do it straight, with Gold Spot soda seeming to be the weapon of choice. My antics via TikTok can be seen here.
So, how does firewater taste? OK, so it does not taste great, but it is by far not the worst drink that I have gad in the world. Of course it tastes bit like ethanol and every bottle is a bit different, but Papua New Guinean firewater is by far better than Bai Jiu, at least in my humble opinion.
Where has the best firewater in Papua New Guinea?
Pretty much the million dollar question and something that came up after my TikTok fame. Personally found My Hagen paia wara to be a bit weak, whilst that of Bougainvillea firewater was both string and flavoursome. I have since been told to try “brands” from New Britain and beyond, with me safely being able to say my PNG firewater Piaya Wara Man odyssey has just begun.
Want to sample village like and try firewater in Papua New Guinea? Then join us on one of our tours