The following beer recipe is featured in the September/October 2021 issue of Zymurgy magazine. Access this issue along with the archives with Zymurgy Online!
In central and southern Mexico, the term tepache refers to a variety of drinks. In Mexico City, tepache is a sweet, refreshing, mildly fermented drink made from brown cane sugar and pineapple. It is served with ice on street corners and markets across the city.
In the Cañada region of the state of Oaxaca, where much of this story takes place, tepache refers to fermented sugarcane juice. It can be distilled into aguardiente liquor or enjoyed on its own as a delicious alcoholic beverage. The tepache that Domingo and other Oaxacan moonshiners brew is extremely simple and easy to make.
Perhaps the most interesting use of it, however, is as a vehicle for the nutritious probiotic yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii. This yeast strain is available commercially from a wide variety of health product providers. Many people take it in tablet form to treat gastrointestinal issues and other health conditions.
To really get the authentic flavor of Oaxacan mountain tepache, I recommend using fresh sugarcane juice. You can use any available hardware to press the juice out of the cane: clamps, a rolling pin, whatever works.
Of course, the process is quite labor intensive. Alternatively, you can buy some piloncillo brown sugar, also known as panela. This is a form of natural cane sugar sold in many Latin American markets in the form of hard, dark-brown cones. For starters, plan on making one gallon (3.8 liters) of tepache. This recipe will give you roughly 5% ABV. Of course, as with many traditional brews, the exact chemistry may vary.
Novices should never try to distill their own liquor at home. Not only is it illegal, but it can be highly toxic.
- 1 gal. (3.8 L) water
- 1 lb. (454 g) piloncillo (panela) brown sugar, or 16 fluid ounces (473 mL)
of fresh sugarcane juice
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii
Original Gravity: Varies
Bring the water to a boil and then dissolve the hard sugar cones in it over low heat, or boil with sugarcane juice to sterilize. Cool and pitch the yeast. You can experiment with drinking tepache at varying levels of fermentation. Take a taste every few days.
Whenever the palate is to your liking, go ahead and put it into the fridge, chill, and start drinking. Alternatively, unfermented fresh-pressed sugarcane juice is a delicious drink on its own, especially when served over ice.
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