Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The First Chicha Post.

I'm researching the history of chicha. Corn beer. But first you get to hear my history with chicha.

Eight years ago (or so) I was in Peru, mainly in the Cuzco area to study Spanish and have a few adventures. One of them was to investigate those mysterious red bags that hung on long poles over the road. At some point I learned what the red sack meant: Chicha on sale here.

Now, we're not talking about the fruity, nonalcoholic, koolaid-like chicha sold in Peruvian restaurants. We are talking about the real stuff, fermented from the corn chewed up by village women. However, in the roadside shack I visited just outside Urubamba, the kindly abuela in charge didn't seem to have many teeth at all, let alone a whole set of chompers strong enough for chewing corn. Sadly my Spanish wasn't yet snappy to ask for an explanation, as she dipped my glass jar into a five-gallon bucket of what looked like dishwater.

If you count the skinny brown chicken darting around the inside of the shack, there were five of us in there. Besides the lady and I, a couple of grimy construction workers sat at the only table. They gave me big grins and made the hand gestures universally understood to mean, "Drink up, gringo!"

Funny: The drink that looked like dishwater also tasted like it. Soapy and a bit sour. Oh well. So maybe that old lady wasn't the Armand Debelder of chicha.

Have any of you tried Dogfish Head's chicha? Let us know what you thought. The video here includes Sam Calagione chewing and spitting, which will probably get my wife all hot.

Did chicha contribute to the downfall of the Incas and Aztecs? We'll find out very soon. Maybe even tomorrow. We'll even learn more about how to brew it at home. If you are so inclined.


  1. In the Brewmasters episode where Sam makes chicha, every single traditional brewer he talks to says that they don't chew the corn, including one woman in her 60s who remembers 3 generations back her grandma who didn't chew the corn, and who had never heard of anyone actually chewing the corn. It seemed like Sam was mostly committed to the stunt aspect of it, as opposed to actually doing what the peruvians did.

  2. Besides his uncanny ability to take awful-sounding recipes and make them into surprisingly drinkable beer, the marketing prowess might be the other thing I admire about Sam Calagione.

    But yeah: I've been digging up chicha recipes and have yet to find one that recommends chewing the corn. I suspect chicha owes much of its fame to the mere image of old Quechua ladies chewing up maize and spitting it out.