Some years ago a colleague of mine was telling me about his vacation to Peru. He is a climber and enjoys going to desolate hard to reach areas. Since he knows I have a passion for beer he proceeded to tell me about a drink that he had while there called Chicha. As he was explaining the drink to me, he finished by saying that young women spit into the liquid to start the fermentation process. I had forgotten about this drink until a member of the Lupulin Clan Brew Club brought a sample for the group to taste at our last meeting.
Chicha originated in the Incas and was drunk during festivals and rituals. In Latin American countries it is still traditional to pass a communal gourd of Chicha within their community to signify unity or at special occasions such as weddings, baptisms, etc. It is an insult to refuse to taste the Chicha when passed.
Traditional Chica was made by young women, called Acllas, that were trained in special schools on making Chicha. Instead of germinating all of the grain, as beer brewers do to release the starches, the chicha de jora, or yellow corn maize, is macerated and moistened in the mouths of the Acllas and formed into small balls which are then flattened and laid out to dry. The natural ptyalin enzymes in the saliva acts as a catalyst and breaks down the starches of the corn maize into maltose, or fermentable sugars, required for the fermentation process and creation of alcohol. Once the chewed jora is dry it is placed into a vat of hot water which is boiled. The process from this point on is very much like brewing beer. Traditional Chicha has very little alcohol if any (0 to 3% ABV).
Today the process has changed. The use of young women chewing the corn has been removed and the process involves taking jora and barley and cooking them in water over a low heat for two hours. The mixture is strained, while lukewarm, through cheesecloth and sugar is added to taste. The Chicha is then placed in a pitcher and covered for one day and then served.
The flavor from the sample brought to the meeting was definitely corn and I did enjoy it. As you know I always like to try something different and unique. I will admit hearing how traditional Chicha was made was somewhat unsettling, however, I find it fascinating how man has developed techniques to create drinks that contain alcohol.