There aren’t many areas of the food industry that can be as creatively weird as craft beer. Often more like potions class than cooking, the movement’s popularity has soared over the last decade, with the public apparently more open than ever to drinking unusual things. Encouraged by our newly discovered adventurous streak, brewers have been scouring the globe for odd ingredients to try and turn into alcohol. Combinations that would have seemed ridiculous until a few years ago have now become firm fan favourites. Beer is now about much more than lager and bitter.
But, for all the exciting new and delicious discoveries, some craft beer makers seem to take extra pride in being as disgusting as possible. Intrepid boozers can buy beers featuring bacon, doughnuts and pizza if they fancy a walk on the wild side. But even these flavours pale into insignificance when compared to a new beer courtesy of Dogfish brewing company. For anyone who fancies their alcohol with a hint of cannibalism, you can now buy a beer made from human saliva.
To make the beer, which is currently being sold under the name “Chicha”, Dogfish employees had to go above and beyond the confines of their job spec. According to Dogfish Head Sam Calagione, 100 coworkers were instructed to chew on purple maize to produce the base for the brew. This soggy mulch was then left to ferment with a mixture of fresh strawberries and pink peppercorns in order to produce the final bottle. According to Calagione, the results are, “sweet, tart and 100% sanitary”, which is exactly what you want to hear before you crack open a cold one.
Calagione unleashed the new beer on legends of the odd eating game Rhett and Link for a new series of “That’s Odd, Let’s Drink It”. Despite the unusual ingredient at the heart of the brew, the reviews were surprisingly positive. Even after learning what was in it, Link sounded almost disappointed to describe it as “just a nice beer”.
Though you might think that Cicha is a classic example of craft brewing gone too far, there is a complex history at the heart of Dogfish’s latest project. The saliva beer is actually inspired by an ancient South American tradition, in which people have been using chewed up maize and other fruits to make alcohol for hundreds of years. Also known as “chicha”, it is clear that this tradition has been a direct inspiration for Calagione and the Dogfish team.
The key to chichas both old and new is in the enzymes within our spit. Though normally brewers need to apply heat to begin the breakdown of starch into sugars - which eventually leads to alcohol - the job can also be accomplished by our saliva. If cealed and left for a fair period of time, chewed up sugary fruits will begin to ferment and produce a delicious, if unorthodox drink. It might seem a little unappetising, but there’s no doubt that the method is effective.
Craft beer can seem like an irritatingly kooky and even unnecessary business to many people. After all, if you’ve already got something as delicious as beer, what’s the point of trying to fix what isn’t broken? But even if you don’t agree with odd flavours and ingredients, the new Chicha beer proves that craft year can have a use beyond novelty. As a way of bringing ancient techniques and cultural history back into the mainstream, craft beer may hold the key.