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7-10-2015, 07:26

Brewing in the New World

Traditional interpretations hold that beer and brewing technology came to the Americas from Europe via the Jamestown settlers and the Pilgrims. However, several indigenous American cultures (outside of North America) had developed fermented products long before the Europeans arrived. In the Andean society of the

Incan empire, the fermentation of beverages was well established - the term chicha referring collectively to the numerous indigenous fermented beverages of South America.

The chicha of the Incas was elaborated primarily from maize, although there were variants, including beverages made from manioc roots and peanuts, to name just two. It is interesting to note that in the absence of hops, diastases (by-products important for flavoring and increasing alcohol content) were introduced to maize beer from human saliva, as moistened maize powder was rolled into balls and placed in the mouth (Morris 1979: 22).

Evidence from Spanish colonial sources and archaeological finds suggests that the production and consumption of maize beer was fairly widespread in the. Andes area. Like the ales of Europe, chicha was not only a significant component of religious and economic life but served nutritional needs as well. Its importance was apparent in its large-scale, state-controlled production - revealed by archaeological excavations that have indicated the existence of state-run breweries and distribution centers (Morris 1979: 26-7).

The mass production of chicha in the Incan empire was abolished by the Spaniards, but the making of maize beer on a smaller scale remained widespread and continues today in the Andes and elsewhere. The relatively high price of modern beer makes chicha an attractive alternative in the rural areas of Central and South. America.

Another indigenous American beverage that is still produced is a Brazilian beer known as kaschiri, which is fermented from manioc roots. Its manufacture is similar to the Incan maize beer in that the tubers are chewed and moistened by salivation. Maize is also used by Indians in Mexico to make a crude beer called tesguino. Far more pervasive, however, was pulque, the fermented juice of the agave, a plant which later was employed to make tequila. Like other local beverages among impoverished peoples, both pulque and tesguino still deliver important nutrients to their Mexican Indian consumers.

Since the Spanish conquest in Mexico and South America and the English settlement of North. America, none of the indigenous American beverages have been produced on a large scale except for pulque, which remained a common drink of poor Mexicans until well into the 1940s. The mass-produced, twentieth-century beers of Central and South America are almost universally hopped Pilsners and employ techniques brought to the New World by Europeans.