Learn How to Prepare the Ancient Inca Corn Beer

Chicha of Jora is a traditional brew that comes down to us, generation to generation. It is consumed in much of South America since our ancestors of the Inca Empire spread their control throughout much of the continent. They carried with them their knowledge, their culture, their customs, and their beliefs. They shared with each other through reciprocity, learning and reaching to be able to improve. In this way chicha spread throughout Tawantinsuyo and, as a result, has taken on much variety. New ingredients were used, but its essence continues, the sacred corn.

This drink has been made since Pre-Inca times down to the present; it plays a major role in Andean ceremonies that are carried out in honor of the Mother Earth, the Pachamama.

It has a golden hue and a nourishing body. It flavor is just a bit bitter and you feel it across your palate. The percentage of alcohol in it varies according to the length of fermentation or according to the chicha makers who we call chicheras or chicheros.

Chicha manages to resist being forgotten. With the passage of years, the tradition of drinking it takes on a welcoming warmth that wraps all generations in its protection and with each taste you can feel its slightly bitter strength enrich your palate.

In Cusco we have in each neighborhood more than one chichería, a place where chicha is made and sold. In them, you can observe how the beverage brings together people of different social classes to share experience, have fun, and enjoy lifting cups with each other.

You will recognize traditional chicheries by their warmth, the long conversations, the Andean rhythm the you hear in a song, a huayno, by the tables with their long benches on which clients register their names and drawings, by their large caporal glasses that are filled to the mouth, and by the first sips given to the mother earth.

It is interesting to know how chicha is made in its different forms. We know that the way of making it varies from place to place though it always has the essence of sacred corn.

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The Manada Collective, of which Walter and I are a part, had a wonderful experience of making the chicha to help the cargo holders of the Sara Wawa 2017 Feast. It took us three days where we learned about the great value of corn and of chicha as food and as medicine. It is a purifier and is good for your lungs. It is nourishing. Drinking gives you energy and strength in your activities.

With joy and good humor, master Edwin Chaves taught us and guided us through the process. We enjoyed the elaboration of this holy beverage. When we first took on the task, Walter, Fernando, Michael, Elvis, Edwin and I thought it would be easy and quick. It is sold every day in the chicherías so we could not imagine it could be hard. We thought they just fermented it one day for the next. IInsead it was a process of dedication, respect, love and good humor since the chicha takes its flacor, its aroma, and its body according to the being of the person who makes it and the type of energies and desires they have. “You must have fun while you make it” the master told us.

Under the Belén Bridge, the day before we started working, we bought from one of the caseras, the traditional women vendors, the principal ingredient. “This is sweet jora (sprouted corn) casero,” she called to us. Try it. From it you can make rich chicha.” This vendors warmth voice attracted us. From her hand she gave us a gew grains of germinated corn. We tasted it. It was warm, rich, and sweet. We asked for an arroba and a half (an arroba is about twenty-five pounds) of the jora in ground form. She weighed it with a smile and said we should bring her some of the resulting chicha to taste.

Then we bought 1 and ½ kilos of green apples, the same of quinoa, wheat flour, and a package of six chancacas, big bars of raw, molasses sugar (chancaca). When we got home we spread the jora out on empty rice bags and left it for the next day.

The first full day we met up in the Kancharina community house. There, the master gave us the utensils we would use in the chicha making: a thin stick of chonta wood that was about a meter long, two large pots, the large spoon (winco), made form a dried gourd well carved and strong, with which the chicha is served. Then he took us to the inner patio, the second patio of the house. There, in the company of the garden’s vegetation, especially of the San Pedro cactuses, we found a space set apart solely for making chicha. There was a wood fired stove, a fogón, with three openings for pots that was ready to be lit.

We began to work to the rhythm of varied types of music and with lots of will to learn. We lit the flame, filled the pots with water, and heated them until they boiled. While waiting we put all the jora in a large basin. Walter, Michael and I sliced the apples and mixed all the flours together. My hands turned into beating sticks above the other deep basin that awaited the mixture. After some fifteen minutes we took it to the pots and divided the ground jora between the two using the winco. One of us held the basin firmly while the other divided the corn and put it equally in each boiling pot.

We tended the fire for some eight hours. While it boiled it filled the room with the natural scent of sweet corn. Happy with the scent, Fernando said “It is as if I always had this scent in my memory”. We all laughed and together thanked the Pachamama. We added two chancacas, balls or bars of raw sugar, to each pot and had to stir it from time to time with the chonta stick so that the corn gruel would not stick to the sides. All us from La Manada took turns watching the fire and stirring the pots.

After 8 hours we had to let the liquid cool down in order to strain it. We used a blue screen on a deep, reed basket. We strained it through this until we filled an empty vessel. Then we placed the liquid in a large container and added 1 liter of chicha bagasse and wrapped the container with blankets and weaving so that it would not lose its heat and so that it would ferment better overnight.

The next day, our second, we set more sieved jora to boil again in pots filled with water for another 8 hours, just as we did the first day. We added again the chancacas, chilled it, let it cool, strained the liquid and then added it to the day-before’s batch in the large contained we call a bidón.

The third day did not bring us much work. The bidón had 60 liters in it and we added 2 and ½ liters more to it of beer bougasse, just one half hour before serving. Optionally, you can add a package of flour added to 4 beaten egg whites to give it foam. This is the final touch.

The golden liquid of the Incas that the Manada prepared received many gratifying complements from those who drank it during the Sara Wawa celebration for 2017.

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On tasting the chicha that we prepared I stopped to think about how this beverage mode from a base of corn invokes all of our generations and social classes. This is a great joy that turns round the caporal, the big glass, of chicha, whether at work, in an occasional conversation, or in an Andean ceremony where former times are always present.

People said the taste, body, and scent of the chicha were good. They asked “who made the chicha?”. The cargo holders, Iña and Claudia brought them to introduce us to them. “They said the aja (chicha) is very rich. You can feel its body and its bitter side throughout your mouth. It is pleasing.” Those who knew how to make chicha congratulated us and the cargo holders for the fine chicha with which they greeted and carried out the feast.


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