Transcultural Brewday: Wonmisan Chicha Jora Pacifica

One of the folk-beers of South America is called “chicha,” a brew that is today most often made with corn of some kind — often malted corn, and traditionally chewed to allow conversion of starches into sugars. (Corn lacks the enzymes that wheat and barley have for self-conversion, so  the enzymes were sourced from an obvious place: human saliva.)

When I mentioned to some brewed friends that I had gotten some blue corn and was thinking about making chicha jora, people immediately asked whether  I would be chewing the corn. This is probably because on the TV show The Brew Masters, the Dogfish Head people make much ado of finding the people with the best salivary enzymatic profile for corn chewing/conversion, and then of the process of chewing the stuff. I’d see the program too, though I’d actually heard about chicha (and the mastication step) long before that. Still, it did look like an unpleasant process, and the brewers I asked seemed leery about drinking beer made with human spit.

Therefore, I decided to use some amylase enzyme powder, which is pretty much the enzymes that grains like wheat and barley contain which allow a beer mash to convert itself.

As for why I decided to make a batch of chicha with unmalted corn, that was more about logistics: my new fridge is nice, but it’s also a little… well, finicky. It ended up freezing some of the cobs I had sitting on a middle shelf, and while I was able to get a few less-badly-affected cobs to a place where they could rest a few days more, while I figure out where to hang-dry them, I decided I’d better use those cobs that were more affected by the freeze.

I don’t know if the corn I have will in fact malt: it may be they’re one-shot seed corn, in which case all my chicha will be with unmalted corn. But this batch is 100% unmalted, anyway, and just a test batch — one gallon at most, folks!

The process was, well, I suppose it was simple. I roasted ten cobs of blue corn in the oven for a few hours at medium heat (about 170C). Once they had cooled, I pried the now much dried kernels from the cobs, and boiled them in water for about forty minutes. Thereafter, I ground the kernels (with a liter or so of cold water added) into a corn mush in my food processor, and returned them to my grain bag to begin a mash at 70C. In order to facilitate the mash, I added first a teaspoon of amylase enzyme formula, and then more at an hour when the conversion was still incomplete.

That’s the stage I’m at now, but the remainder shouldn’t be too hard, so I may was well describe it here: once the conversion is complete, I’m going to pull and drain the grain bag, and boil the wort for an hour or so (with about 200 grams of Indonesian gula — unrefined palm sugar, because that’s the closest thing I have to piloncillo here – hence the “Pacifica” in the name of the beer). When it cools, I’ll pitch some Nottingham yeast and keep it at around room temperature for the next couple of days. It should be ready to drink by Sunday night, and by Monday night it’ll need to go into the fridge, where it’ll last a couple more days, I think. I’ll be having a few friends over for a brewing day (gluten free beer!) and since this beer will be gluten free, I’m expecting we will be able to partake then, which is great!

(And assuming this does turn out drinkable, then I’ll probably make some more in December, for the next big brewer meetup/competition.)

I forgot to take pictures of the process this time around, but next time I’ll be sure to do so.

UPDATE (11:15 pm): I forgot to note a few things:

  1. I also added three sticks of cinnamon to the boil in the last five minutes or so, and let them steep until the chicha cooled.
  2. If I get a chance to make this again, I’m tempted to use Whirlfloc; both hot and cold break were very noticeable, and the wort clarified to the point where it was clear all around the clumped trub in the middle. Sadly, I’d set things up assuming it would stay cloudy, and ended up pouring it all into the fermenter. I suppose I can crash cool it a bit to clarify, but I doubt traditional chicha ever got very clear.
  3. I over-boiled the wort, so it’s a little bit (1-2L) under target volume. Since this beer is supposed to sour slightly, I thought about fermenting it with bread yeast, but decided to go with Nottingham, since I have another 2 packs to spare anyway. So I think I’ll just add unboiled water and maybe some souring will happen despite it being under an airlock. (It’s likely, given how poorly sealed the plastic lid on the little fermenter I’m using is; when I agitated the wort to aerate it, sweet sticky stuff splashed out and onto me.
  4. Forgot to take a gravity reading, or actually I kind of decided not to; the corn starch didn’t all convert in the mash anyway, so I’ll be adding some (more) amylase enzyme formula to the brew anyhow… I’m assuming there’s nothing wrong with the amylase I have, and that it just requires a longer mash period (say, 4-6 hours or more, possibly even overnight).
  5. Recipe here. Ignore the hop schedule: there aren’t hops in chicha, but you have to enter hops for the recipe to get saved. There are a ton of different recipes for chicha all over the net, but the most interesting recipes I found were here.

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