Chicha de Jora: The Beer of the Incas

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Almost all cultures created some form of beer. The Inca, as they tended to do, made theirs from a simple recipe, yet achieved surprising quality.

The earliest recorded beer recipe is said to come from papyrus scrolls found in Egypt, dating back to 5,000 BC. The ancient Romans loved their beer, as did the many dynasties of ancient China. It was the safest liquid to drink throughout the middle ages, when water was bacteria-ridden and beer had been exposed to heat. Many wars throughout history are rumoured to have been started over beer tariffs and embargos.

The Inca, following in the wobbly footsteps of many great civilizations before them, considered beer to be a sacred beverage: a peace offering, a hospitable welcome, or a celebratory symbol. A story circulates that when the Spanish arrived in South America, the Inca emperor offered a chalice wrought of gold, filled with chicha de jora, to a powerful Dominican priest. The priest admired the cup but tossed the liquid, thinking the Inca was trying to poison him. Little did he know, the Inca was simply following the local custom for starting a conversation and inviting an exchange of ideas.

Another legend explains the humble origins of the subtly sour beer – and surprisingly enough, the tasty libation sprang from happenstance. As the story goes, a powerful rain flooded a corn silo, fermenting the grains and creating accidental malt. The malt was thrown out, assumed to be nothing more than spoiled food store. A hungry local found the malt and drank till he was full – and inebriated beyond belief. Thus chicha de jora was born, and quickly grew all the way from one starving scavenger to the preferred libation of the emperors themselves.

The recipe grew a bit more complex in the years following, but soon reached a pinnacle, the chicha de jora we know today. Since the days of Dominican priests turning down good-meaning offerings from Inca emperors, this archaic beer has been brewed following the same recipe, using the same traditional techniques. Communities throughout the Andes still regard chicha as a sacred celebratory beverage, and brew it in-house to share with family and friends. Chicherias, or chicha houses, exist throughout the thousands of rural Andean communities, marked by a red flag from the roof, and joyous laughter and sweet scent escaping from the windows.

The ancient beer of the Inca is largely a local secret, but luxury experience outfitter Peru Empire Co. has created an opportunity for the discerning traveller to exchange stories and drain mugs with a locally revered chicha brewer.

To learn more about how to incorporate a chicha de jora tasting into your unique, individually tailored Peru itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at or at +51-1- 700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713- 7030/34.

#Chicha #Gastronomy

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