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I’m always game to try a funky new beer, but when Maggie Fuller of Beer Ethos called to say she’d scored a bottle of chicha from Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery, I nearly wimped out. Chicha is a traditional South American brew made from corn. I like to refer to it as “spit beer” because before the brewing process begins, the corn must be chewed and moistened in the brewer’s mouth. The enzymes in the saliva activate the starches, which then break down into fermentable sugars. The beer is ultimately boiled, which leaves it sterile and germ-free. Dogfish Head’s renegade founder, Sam Calagione, created a super-limited amount based on a Peruvian recipe that called for purple maize, yellow maize and pink peppercorns. He also mixed in strawberries, a traditional chicha ingredient that Calgione felt was best to source locally in the U.S.
Maggie had tried real deal chicha on a trip to Peru and didn’t find our tasting at all daunting. I, on the other hand, sipped with caution. The strawberries gave the brew a lovely purplish-pink hue making it look deceptively pretty and innocent for a beer with someone’s spit in it. The nose was pure strawberries and the taste was surprisingly refreshing, dry and a bit spicy. And the flavors became more complex as the beer came to room temperature. The verict: a tasty beer, if you can get past the mental hurdle of how it's made.