You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Delaware Chicha

There are a few pretty famous alt-beers in the world (no, not altbier, alt-beer, like alt-country): tuak, sahti, and of course, chicha. The latter, a corn-based beer, hails from South America, still brewed at the family scale and perhaps dating back as far as the Incas. Traditionally, the corn went through an enzymatic conversion by way of the human mouth. The references I recall mention old women and perhaps even toothless old women, who gum or chew the corn so that their saliva can break down the starch. (How much of this is apocryphal, I can't say.)

All of which brings us to Sam Calagione's newest endeavor: chicha he himself gnawed. The details are all contained in today's Times in one of the most entertaining articles I've read about beer:
“We’re going to have an archaeologist and historians and brewers sitting around and chewing 20 pounds of this purple Peruvian corn,” he said. “You kind of chew it in your mouth with your saliva, then push with your tongue to the front of your teeth so that you make these small cakes out of it, then lay them on flat pans and let them sit for 12 hours in the sun or room temperature. That’s when the enzymes are doing their work of converting the starches in that purple corn.”
Joyce Wadler, the Times reporter, got to sit in on the event, and the tale is coffee-spraying funny. Although I've never met the man, it seems, based on the many, many articles about him, that Calagione is not a particularly meticulous planner. So things start out with verve (and not much info):
Mr. Calagione hoped to make about 10 kegs of chicha, which would be available only in his Rehoboth Beach pub, Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats. He was confident that his team would be able to process the 20 pounds of corn his recipe required in about an hour.
But proceed ... unexpectedly.

At the end of two hours, there were but two trays of salivated corn. We took a break for dinner in the pub.

At 9:30 p.m., it was back to the brew room. A weigh-in of the larger tray showed but 14 ounces of salivated corn.

“It’s dismal, I’m not going to lie to you,” Mr. Calagione said. “I’d say everybody is deeply, unpleasantly surprised at how labor intensive and palate fatiguing this stuff has turned out to be.”

Did the experiment result in a batch of chicha? You'll have to read the article to find out.

Jean-Pierre Jeannin, Marco Falcioni


  1. I just threw up in my mouth!

  2. What's that I'm a craft brewer line going through my head?? Oh yeah,

    "I don't put corn in my beer"


    At least leave the saliva out.

  3. The last line of the article brought it all home.

    “You want chicha, you should go to Queens, or any Peruvian or Chilean restaurant.”