My Chicha Adventure....

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Mr. No-Tip

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My Chicha adventure

I’ve been giving a few homebrewing and craft beer talks at various events in the last year or so. I was doing one such talk for “In Canberra Tonight” when the membership coordinator at the National Gallery asked me if I’d be interested in doing a Peruvian Beer talk as part of the Gold and the Incas exhibition. My initial reaction was ‘what peruvian beer?’*, so I said ‘what about Chicha, the indigenous corn beer?’ My foolish offer was accepted.

I began by researching as much as I could on the net, finding a number articles which, while varying in quality, helped piece together the world of Chicha for me:

By far the best article I found was this pamphlet from 1947 written members of the Harvard Botanical Society. It has a number of primary source references gathered in the Americas at the time – it’s a great read if you have time.

My colleague at work also helped translate a traditional low alcohol recipe that he had in his family, which was great. View attachment LA CHICHA DE JORA.doc

One thing that became clear to me is that it’s not all spit beer – malted corn is often used as well. I had two goes at malting corn in the leadup to the talk. My attempt during the summer heatwave did not go particularly well, with the soak water quickly progressing from a pleasant semi sour smell to dog poo very quickly. I harvested a few ears from my old man’s garden in early Autumn, and this malting project went a lot better, leaving me with 500g of malted corn. I combined this with a few KGs of flaked corn for my brew.

Spires.jpg Malting bubbles.jpg MaltedCrushed.jpg malted.jpg

Spit beer was never on the table. I didn’t have the stomach for it and I didn’t think the audience would either. I instead looked into enzymes. Decent lab enzymes are actually pretty hard to come by, but the folks at national homebrew sent me two different enzymes to try: the still spirits enzyme and another wine enzyme which I can’t find on their site right now.


I knew that with the enzymes I’d need a long mash, so on Friday night, I filled the Braumeister up with corn and rice hulls and set it off.

There’s a reason beer is not brewed with 100% corn. The thick soup was too much for the braumeister pumps, even with the hulls. I quickly came to the conclusion that this was my curse for taking on a brew that is traditionally only made by women, but I persevered.

I drained off the BM pipes and switched to a brew in a bag with the pumps running overnight. The corn was mashed at 55 for 2 hours, 60 for 4 hours, 65 for 4 hours, and 70 for four hours. Those final two hours and a lot of stirring helped get the gravity up a final ten points to about 1.030 or so. Starch tests were still coming up pretty black, but I figured that it was time to move on. Though I’ve not ever tried authentic Chicha, it looks to me like a light starchiness is part of the deal.

At this point I split the batch – a third went to the Chicha De Jora – a traditional corn beer, and two thirds went to my own Chicha Moderna – my own hybrid of Chicha and beer.

For the Chicha de Jora I boiled up the wort (traditionallycalled upi) and added spices and dextrose to up the final gravity to 1.052. Dextrose might seem pretty modern, but my reading suggests that various crude sugars are added to Chicha to take it to a higher alcohol. While most Chicha is a low-mid alcohol beverage, some fortified Chicha’s can come up around 12%!

I chilled the Chicha de jora down in my plate chiller as per normal. Not having access to authentic Peruvian wild yeast and bacteria, I pitched a concoction of US05, Roselare Blend, Lacto Delbrukii and Brett Brux (I was being reimbursed for cost, so I though I’d ensure a healthy fermentation!).

Meanwhile I mashed the Chicha Moderna. What I was aiming for here was a cream alesque beer, but with ~60% corn instead of 10-20%. I actually used the wort from the enzymically converted corn to mash 2kg of pils malt and a further 3kg of corn. I boiled this for 90 minutes and had a simple 60 minute addition of Millenium to 24 IBU. This beer further deviated from a cream ale as I pitched the same wild yeast blend as I used for the Chicha De Jora. I also added a coppertun dry enzyme as I really didn’t trust all the starch in the beer!

traditional.JPG Traditional Peruvian Transfer Techniques.

I ended up with a bout 12l of Chicha De Jora and 20l of Chicha Moderna in the fermenter. Both went off pretty quickly and well. They also timed themselves perfectly. Chicha De Jora is served still fermenting, seemingly around 1020-1030 FG. My Chicha De Jora reached this point just as the Chicha Moderna reached 1005. Both were where I wanted them to be, but I was a week off the talk, so I chilled them down to 0 and held them there. I also felt the Chicha De Jora was a bit bland, so I added some more spices, cinnamon, ginger, and clove.

The day before the talk I let the Chicha De Jora warm back up and also made a Chicha Morada, a non alcoholic ‘dessert Chicha’. Chicha Morada is made from purple Peruvian corn and mixed with sweeteners, fruits, and spices. I got two different Chicha morada products online. One was a true purple corn powder that came in little tea bags to be boiled up with fruits and spices – no sweetness of its own. I used quince, apples, strawberries, cinnamon ginger, cloves, and sugar. The other is an artificial sachet with 3 calories in 3 litres and enough sweetness to make your sugar obsessed 4 year old to cringe. It reminded me of the bubble gum I used to get with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles cards in the early 90s. Weird.

So the night came around. We did a guided tour of the exhibition, and then it was time to talk Chicha. I started by guiding the crowd through the Peruvian Cusquena beer. *It turns out me saying ‘What Peruvian beer’ early on is not really fair.

I’d kind of pre-prepared my talk on Cusquena based on beeradvocate reviews having not had the chance to try it – I planned to indict it as an insipid yellow macro in the spirit of Heinekin and and Corona. It’s certainly a pale lager, but it’s actually pretty full bodied and flavoured – closer to a Budvar than a Corona – nothing remarkable, but worth a try.

I used the Cusquena as a launchpad to give a really quick 101 on beer production, which helped explain the difference with the Chicha – no barley, no hops, no direct pitched yeasts (traditional chicheras use spontaneous or ‘not cleaning the fermenter’ techniques). I talked about all the difficulties I had but was pretty proud of the end product.

People seemed to like the three Chichas. The slightly sour, starchy, room temperature Chicha De Jora was described as interesting, but few came back for seconds - there’s a reason warm 100% corn beer hasn’t caught on in the west. The Chicha Moderna, on the other hand, was a hit. The lacto was the only overtly noticeable wild flavor in the beer, but I think all the bacterias played a small part. The sour really played well against the slight bitterness and the mild sweetness lingering from the corn, despite the 1005 finish. The Chicha Moradas were also gulped up, especially from the ladies.

After the talk, I ended up with about 3l of each alcoholic Chicha left. I decided to see how the wild yeasts would go given a bit more time. I blended both together and threw a random amount of boiled DME in to give the yeasties something else to chew on. The 6l is now sitting in a party keg with a pressure relief valve. I’m thinking I might bust it out for ANHC club night!

So that’s about it. I hope this was of some interest to you guys. I don’t know if I’d do it again, but it was certainly a fun research project and a challenge for my western wired brewing brain.

yum beer

Not in the house, you've got a shed..
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Sam from Dogfish Head did an episode on Chicha, in Brew Masters series 1, the whole staff chewed and spat out corn for days to get the mash.

Their customers didn't seem to mind the final product.


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Great stuff!

The chew and spit method is *really* hard work apparently. Takes hours, and that's probably for a very small run. This is one ferment that's probably not going to be mass-produced by CUB very soon.

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