3 Chicha de Jora Myths, Debunked
Mysterious and misunderstood by the global beer community, Chicha is a fermented corn beverage with ancient origins and millions of devoted drinkers across Latin America. In Bolivia, a rather flat, tart version made with malted corn, barley, quinoa, or wheat is served in tiny bowls. In Ecuador, Chicha de Yamor includes seven different types of corn. And in Peru, a lush, foamy, and mildly acidic variety of the drink known as Chicha de Jora can be fruited with wild strawberries and garnished with ground cinnamon or coriander to create a Frutillada.
Here are three common myths about Chica de Jora, along with the facts about this traditional drink of the Andes.
Chicha is made from chewing corn and spitting it out, right?
Modern Chicha brewers don’t chew the corn at all. Even poverty-stricken brewers operating in roofless settlements with earthen floors say that chewing is for jungle folk. In fact, that type of jungle Chicha is referred to as Chicha de Muka. Chicha de Jora, as well as Quechuan Chicha from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia, is made from various types of corn that the brewers malt themselves or, in some cases, hire a local specialist to malt.
Chicha is flat, murky, unappealing, and too rustic to be drinkable.
Yes, some versions sold from plastic buckets on sun-drenched street corners aren’t very appetizing. But the best brews from Sacred Valley chicherias are no murkier than your average milkshake IPA. And, to boot, they’re as soft and fluffy as real ale drawn from a hand pump. Meanwhile, Chicha de Jora’s tartness is moderate—nothing even close to the level of a Lambic. The overall result is much less funky tasting than most Wild Ales, and less acidic than most sours. Drinkability is key, so rusticity remains low.
Chicha is an unhygienic mess.
It’s true that animals occasionally run around the tasting room or brewing area in some chicherias, but cats roam Lambic breweries. The brewing equipment is rustic, and there are earthen floors (mostly because you have to pour out a sip for Pachamama). On the other hand, numerous quality-conscious brewers only sell the freshest Chicha, throwing out any leftovers once the picanteria is empty. These conscientious women serve a new batch daily. They also find time for brewing, preparing strawberries for Frutillada, transferring Chicha to the next day’s serving jar, feeding farm animals, and malting corn. Some chicheras are true professionals.
To learn more about Chicha, read Mountain Magic: Spontaneous Fermentations from Peru’s Sacred Valley. ■