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Peruvian Corn Beer / Chicha - Yes!

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I came across this really detailed and entertaining account of making Peruvian corn beer, and Guillermo on Slow Life with Real Food blog was kind enough to share it here on! Enjoy (burp)!

Brewing Chicha de Jora (Peruvian Corn Beer)

28 de Julio is coming up, and Mariana and I are having a Peru independence day party here here at LocalHarvest headquarters in Santa Cruz to celebrate. We'll be making anticuchos, tamales, yuquitas, and pisco sours, but the main "course" will be a nice strong 4 gallon batch of Chicha de Jora (Peruvian Corn beer).

I've planned this chicha to be not so much like the "commercial" chichas that are found in the small grocery stores up in the Andes, but more like the nourishing "gruel/booze" that the patron gives the farm workers during their "jornada" out in the fields, and as part of the standard work deal. The "standard fare" can be up to about 10 quarts per worker per day. Chichas like these are cloudy tan, somewhat sour, and mildly carbonated due to the fact that they are still fermenting in your glass while you drink them.

BTW: Chicha should be made by women, and never by men, which risks offending the Apus (mountain gods) and Mamasara, the corn goddess. I made some offerings to Mamasara that will hopefully buy me a pass.

Peruvian corn beer chicha 1

Chris Giedt and Sra. Maxima enjoy a good glass of chicha in Maras, near Cuzco, back in 1994.

Peruvian corn beer chicha 2 Peruvian Corn Beer - Choosing the Corn

The jora should be made with yellow corn, but Tom Broz of Live Earth Farm contributed 10 lbs. of Mexican white corn to the project. That is the same one used for making tortillas and posole. Probably not what a Peruvian chichera would use, but we'll give it a try.

Peruvian Corn Beer (Chicha)- Soaking the Kernels
peruvian corn beer chicha 3

The Kernels are placed to soak in water for a day or two before they are spread out to germinate.

Peruvian corn beer chicha 4 Aereation

Normally, the soak water should be changed about twice a day to maintain the kernels fresh. Bad odors can develop from "funny" bacteria if the corn is kept soaking in stagnant water. I recruited an aquarium pump to do the job of keeping the water well oxygenated, which made it possible to only change the water once over a 2 day soak.

Peruvian corn beer chicha 5 Ready to Sprout

The nice plump kernels are poured over a strainer. The starch has been hydrated and the germ has awakened. I obtained about a 70% germination rate with this corn. Not great, not bad either.

Peruvian corn beer chicha Peruvian Corn Beer - Germination Bucket

Back in the Andes, the soaked kernels are spread out in "tubs", or even over banana leaves, at about 3 or 4 inches deep. The corn is then covered with wet straw or burlap sacks. Here in California, with space, banana leaves, and burlap sacks being at a premium, I chose a 6 gallon plastic bucket with a bottom spigot, through which an aquarium pump provided enough air for the kernels to breathe while germinating. I placed a stainles steel steamer basket at the bottom of the bucket, to allow the air to circulate evenly.

Peruvian corn beer chicha 7 Peruvian Corn Beer (Chicha)- Wating for Kernels to Germinate

The corn took 3 days to germinate. During day 3, the process generated a lot of heat, which made me flush the corn with cold water every few hours. I chose to do that based on my knowledge of barley malting, where the grain should be kept under 20 degrees celsius at all times. This is because above that temperature the barley acrospyres "shoot", consuming a lot of the starch and creating bitter flavors. Later I learned that this heating is actually expected and wanted for jora making. Andean brewers like it when the corn gets so warm that it is uncomfortable to place your hand inside the germinating pile.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_8_010 El Pachucho - Peruvian Corn Beer

Pachucho is the name of the germinating corn. The photo to the right was taken during day 2. The end result had much longer acrospires. (the little yallow/green shoots coming out of the kernel). Ideally the length of the acrospires should be twice the length of the kernel. Experience shows that that's when the enzymes are at their peak, and not much of the starch has been lost yet.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_9_011 Peruvian Corn Beer (Chicha)- Sun Dried

We were lucky to have 2 very hot and sunny days at about 20% humidity. That's rare here in Santa Cruz at about one block from the beach, where summer mornings are usually cold, foggy, and damp. The jora dried very nicely in just 2 days. Boris helped as the guard dog, keeping the chickens at bay.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_10_014Peruvian Corn Beer (Chicha)- Finished Jora

The dried jora. Ready to use. You can see the dried up rootlets. The acrospires have been mostly discarded by rubbing the kernels. I did that to avoid the bitterness present in the little plants.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_11_012 Preparing the "Chichera" for Peruvian Corn Beer

Basic piece of equipment: a real clay "chomba" to use as the "chichera": a wide mouthed clay jar to use for the fermentation. I could not find anything like a peruvian chomba here in Santa Cruz, but Pottery Planet had some beautiful antique turkish jugs, one of which had the perfect size for a 4 gallon batch of chicha.

Not knowing anything about this chichera, cleaning it up was a serious job. First I scrubed it well with lots of soap, then I soaked it in hot water with a tablespoon of BPW (brewery wash) for 4 days, using an electric heating element inside to keep the water warm, then soaked it in an alcohol/water mix for a day, and finished with a one day soak in a solution of Star-San, a brewery sanitizer that should have killed any bug that was still in there.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_12_015 Peruvian Corn Beer (Chicha)- The Chicha Starter

Now, this one was a pain. The first thing was to find what kind of organisms are used in making chicha de jora. I found lots of research, which pointed all over the place. Of course, most of the Andean wild yeasts are not available here in gringolandia, so I had to do some creative brewing, and make a few starters with different combinations of things, until I found something that gave the right flavor.

The main goal was to end up with a starter of mainly a combination of Lactobacillus plantarum, and regular ale yeast: Saccharomices cervisiae. This also needed a few wild yeasts added in for a more "edgy" flavor. The mix that hit the jackpot was one packet of Nottingham yeast, a little squirt of saurekraut juice (for the L. plantarum), donated by Professor Warmuth, and a gob of sourdough starter, generously provided by Peter Beckmann. I used this mix to innoculate a 500 ml starter of malt extract and a bit of cane sugar.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_013.jpg Peruvian Corn Beer (Chicha)- Ready to Grind

8 lbs. of dried jora waiting in line for the trusty chinese-made cast iron Corona mill.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_14_017 Huiñapu

The jora should be ground into thin flour, which makes it into "huiñapu". The output of my first few cranks was a little coarse, but I finally got it right.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_15_019.jpg Chicha Corn Beer - Preparing the Mash

Ah.. well. The mash. This is the very tricky part. According to all the research I've done, and confirmed by a phone conversation I had with an old chichera from Cajamarca (Fanny's mom), when making chicha, modern chicheros apparently do not bother to make a mash! That is, you grind the jora and you boil it.

For the non-brewers: the "mash" is when you let the ground malt rest in warm water for a while (1/2 hour to 2 hours), to allow the amylase and other enzimes to "do their thing" on the starches, proteins, gums, etc, which converts the ground grains into fermentable sugar water.

Why no mash? No idea, but I have 3 theories:

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Maybe the fire warms up the cold water and huiñapu mix in the "wirki" (clay pot) slow enough so that the blend does spend enough time at the 140 to 160 degrees F range that alpha and beta amylases like.

Maybe the combination of yeasts used for chicha is much better suited to break down polysacharides than the puny ale yeasts and other such bugs we mere mortals use in these northern latitudes.

Maybe the "jora making" malting process, with the 2 to 4 day "hot rest", converts much of the starch into fermentable sugars right there, without requiring a separate mash.

Of course, it could also be that all those researches documenting chicha-making knew little about brewing and did not even notice or bother to ask about the mash.

The Harvard Botanical Museum leaflet on Chicha, from 1947, is actually the best chicha making guide I've found, and the only one research that mentions a true mashing process. (of one hour at 75 degrees celsius). Since I'm not ready to brew a batch of anything without a mash, and since my germination rate was low, I did a 2 hour mash at 160 degrees F. The resulting upi (wort) was nice and sweet, and it felt that using just plain boiled huiñapu would have just made unfermentable starch water.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_16_020.jpg Straining the Upi

This is where I could have done better. I used just a strainer to separate the upi from the "hanchi", or "residue". This should be starined out though a cloth or even a towel. I've seen old drawings of andean women. holding the ends of a long blanket filled with boiled upi, and twisting it to extract the final wort. The strainer let too much chunks of starch get through. Well, we'll have a pretty heavy bodied and somwehat gritty chicha from this batch.

After the first upi runnings were collected, I gave the hanchi a second boil, to make sure we get most of the good stuff from it. The second runnings where then just added to the main batch.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_17_021.jpg Recycling the Hanchi - Corn Beer Pulp

The chickens loved it! In the photo: Pipi, Prima, Pearl, Negrita, and Chleo all taking part of the feast.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_18_022.jpg Boiling the Upi

Different regions in the Andes traditionally boil the upi for very varied amounts of time. I've read form 1 hour boils to multiple-day bois. For this batch, I used a total of 4 gallons of upi, which I vigorously boiled for 3 hours, adding water every 1/2 hour to replace the water lost. I added 8 oz of "chancaca", or "piloncillo" (dried sugarcane juice) at the beginning of the boil. I also added 2 sticks of cinnamon about 30 minutes before the end of the boil.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_19_023.jpg No Patience

Traditionally, the upi is left to cool overnight, but having an immersion cooler handy and no extra doses of patience, mechanizing the process helped a lot. The upi was brought down to 70 degrees F.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_20_025.jpg Final Straining - Peru's Corn Beer

OK! We're ready to go. Time to transfer the upi into the wirki. Made sure to splash it around quite a bit to get the upi well oxygenated, a necessary step for the yeast to healthily reproduce before it starts doing its heavy lifting. Also, lactobacillus, which brings the necessary "sourness" note, seems to prefer anaerobic environments, so aereating the wort well at this point helps prevent an overly-acidic end result.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_21_026.jpg Adding the Starter

OK.. bugs, dinner is served... Go for it.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_22_028.jpg Ready to Ferment

Oh.. beautiful... the aroma of corn and cinnamon, and even a this point, a slight sour note of the Lactobacillus in the starter. I can also smell the warm old clay from the "chichera". This looks very promising.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_23_029.jpg In 3 days...

As I write this, the chicha is sitting in the garage next to a 3 gallon carboy full of a strong sack. That was made from honey harvested by the bees you can see in the background of the photo above with the chickens. It will take one more year for that sack to be ready. Sweet meads of this strength take a long time to mellow out. In contrast, we'll be feasting to the chicha this Saturday, celebrating "28 de Julio", or Peru's independence day.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_24_030.jpg Success!!

The "28 de Julio Party" was quite a success. We made anticuchos de corazon, yuquitas a la huancaina, tamales, tamalitos verdes, and pisco sours. Most of the guests liked the chicha, which was ladled straight our of the clay chichera, while still fermenting, into one pint glass "caporales". Some culturally insensitive individuals which shall never again be invited said that the chicha was foul and reminded them of some evil form of moonshine. For the queasy, I made a few jugs of "frutillada", which is chicha blended with some strawberries and sweetened with a bit of honey. That's a specialy of Cuzco.

peruvian_corn_beer_chicha_25.jpg Upyaykurikuy!!

That's "Cheers!" in quechua. And then... "Hascha Tawan!!" (I want more!) Metrics and Comments on Chicha, Peruvian Corn Beer

Starting gravity was 1.060, final gravity was 1.020. For the non brewers: this is the "density" of the chicha, which tells you how much sugars there where before and after fermentation. The difference in sugar contents then tells you the final alcohol content. After a 3 day fermentation, and with the chicha still bubbling, it had a 5% alcohol content. It was fairly "dry" by then, (most sugars had been converted) but I suspect that if we let it fully ferment we'd end up with a 5.5%. That's within the range of the average store-bought commercial beers here in the US. A Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is 5.7%, and a Heinecken is 5.4%,a Budweisser is 5.0%. The final pH of the chicha was about 3.5. That is fairly acidic, and the equivalent of a Beligian Lambic. "Regular" Beer has a final pH of about 4.0. The low pH of chicha, courtesy of Lactobacillus plantarum, makes it taste nicely sour, and also acts as a preservative. For the chemically illiterate: distilled water has a pH of 7, and muriatic acid a pH of about 0.1.

For the next batch: I'll follow the traditional method described by the 1947 Harvard research instead of the "modern" simplified methods, which produced a chicha that was higher in starches than what I would have liked. There was also almost no head on this brew, which I attribute to an apparent lack of soluble proteins an an excess of corn oils floating over the brew. Next batch I'll allow the malt to heat up fully, which might help the malt proteases break down the larger aminoacid chains. I might also use a protein rest on the upi of 30 minutes at 125-130 degrees F. For the oils: scooping out the krausen should clean those out, and the traditional mashing method probably works better at removing them.

Great article and thanks so much, Guillermo!

CORN BEER

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