I’ve never had the pleasure or good fortune to travel to the quirky resort town of Rehoboth, Delaware. Rehoboth, I hear, has charm, fine beaches, a boardwalk, and something known as the Sea Witch Festival. Washingtonians flock there each summer to escape the city heat. But what interests me most about Rehoboth is a very cool pub there, known as Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats. Its founder and proprietor, 40-year-old Sam Calagione, specializes in brewing ancient types of grog–what he likes to call liquid time capsules.
I first came across a mention of Sam Calagione in a very funny article in the New York Times last September. Calagione and two researchers from the Penn Museum–Patrick McGovern (mentioned in my post yesterday) and Clark Erickson–had decided to brew a batch of the ancient Andean corn beer known as chicha. The kicker was that they decided to make this beer the traditional way, by chewing wad upon wad of milled Peruvian corn, just as women in the Andes once did. Natural enzymes in human saliva break down starches in the corn, and turn them into fermentable sugar. And because the chewing happens before the boiling, the final result can be drunk quite safely (though most chicha makers in South America today use a different and far more sterile method to make their brew).
But Calagione and his two companions gamely attempted to chew their way through 20 pounds of purple Peruvian corn. Here’s what happened, according to New York Times reporter Joyce Wadler:
“As befitting a bold craftsman, Mr. Calagione took the first chomp, grabbing a small handful of corn and plopping it into his mouth. A small puff of flour escaped his lips. Mr. Calagione choked, concentrated and then chewed. After a few minutes, he removed a gravelly, purple lump from his mouth and put it on the tray. It resembled something a cat owner might be familiar with, if kitty litter came in purple.”
What the team learned was that it was hard, dry work to make chicha this way: after hours of dessicated chewing the men worked their way through just seven pounds of corn.
The pub offers a range of ancient ales–from Midas Touch, which it describes as an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from a 2700-yea- old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas, to Sah’tea, a modern update on a 9th century Finnish proto-beer. Dogfish Head is a favorite watering hole of archaeologists, and it’s high on my list of places to visit.
I personally can’t wait to taste authentic chicha.
If you’d like to see Calagione make this beer, please check out the video below.