Origins of ChichaChicha is an ancient beer indigenous to many cultures ranging from the Andes up to what is now the southwestern United States. Somewhere along history, either someone decided it’d be a good idea to chew up corn, spit it out, boil it and then ferment it in a clay pot for a few days until it was ready to drink or someone lost a bad bet. The drink’s history dates back to around 5000 B.C.E. where there’s evidence of early pottery in the Andean region used as vessels to carry and store chicha. The drink soon played a crucial role in history and civilization. It became a cultural signifier for many Andean groups (i.e. Incas and Aztecs) and was not only central to many economies as a means of payment, but also became important for its intoxicating effects. For many of the Andean groups, drunkenness was a way to spiritually communicate as well as develop a sense of community and togetherness. Sharing a drink with another person was seen as an act of friendship and understanding. Sound familiar? To better grasp chicha’s significance, we need only look at the Incan Empire for some answers. Corn was a sacred crop for the Incas. Huge farms were dedicated to the production of corn, primarily powered by the demand for chicha, which was considered a sign of high social status. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that even some Pueblo tribes of modern-day New Mexico, long thought to be teetotalers, were making their own fermented corn drink about 800 years ago. So, arguably, chicha is the most original American beer you could drink. Sip on that idea for a while. Today, chicha is still an important drink for many in Central and South America. After surviving centuries of Spanish colonial rule and oppression, the tradition of making, sharing and drinking chicha is a source of pride. It’s becoming known worldwide and brewers in many different countries are trying their hands at making their own modern version of chicha. Just like beer styles native to other countries, chicha has become a transnational identity for the Andes and South American region at large. Whether or not you want to drink a beer made from saliva is entirely different question.
Brewing ProceduresWarning: You may experience dry-mouth during this process. Please chew responsibly. Traditional Method: The first step to making traditional chicha is moistening the maize with water, rolling it into a small ball and placing in your mouth. Work the maize thoroughly with the tongue until it is completely saturated with saliva. The natural enzymes (ptyalin) from human saliva work to convert the cornstarch into fermentable sugar. Then, the chewed up corn (called muko) is dried out. You’ll use two pounds of the cornmeal for this step. To make the beer, combine the dried out muko with the other pound of raw cornmeal along with any other additives you think would be tasty. For the recipe below, we use squash pulp and prickly pear cactus fruits, but you can use pineapple, cinnamon, cloves, strawberries or limes. Heat the three gallons of water to 150° F (65° C) and add it to your ingredients. Let it stand until cool. Ladle out the top layer of liquid (called upi) and set aside. Next, scoop out the jelly-like middle layer (called misqui kketa) and cook in a pot on the stove until it turns a caramel-like color. While this is cooking, press the grains and other ingredients by using a strainer or a lid to strain the liquid from the grain. Add this liquid to the initial liquid you drew off (upi) and boil for an hour. Once the jelly-like middle layer turns to a caramel-like color, add it to the boiling liquid. Cool the final mixture to 70° F (21° C), pour into a fermenter and add yeast. Allow for fermentation to complete (about a week), siphon into bottles, prime and cap. Ingredients:
- 3 pounds coarsely ground cornmeal
- 1 pound squash pulp (any will do, from pumpkin to winter squash)
- 1 pound prickly pear cactus fruits
- 3 gallons of water
- ale yeast
- 8 quarts water
- 1 pound germinated corn (jora)
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 8 whole allspice or cloves
- ale yeast
John Moorhead is Director of the National Homebrew Competition and AHA Special Projects Coordinator.