DRAFT PICKS: Real traditional "Mayan" beer

The world was supposed to end on Dec. 21. According to a bunch of really, really sincere (and worried) people, the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world in a rain of fire and ash.

Apparently, a meteor or something was supposed to hit the earth. It didn’t.

I wasn’t too surprised to wake up Dec. 22, still needing to feed the cats and take out the garbage. The Mayans’ track record at predictions wasn’t that great. (They apparently couldn’t even foresee their own cultural demise at the hands of the Spaniards.)

Nevertheless, the Mayans did leave us some interesting “artifacts” – such as a recipe for their beer. Archeologists and historians believe the early cultures of central and south America brewed just as much beer as did the earlier Egyptians and Babylonians. The ingredients, however, were a bit different.

The Mayans, Aztecs and Incas brewed and enjoyed a beer-like beverage using corn and cacao as the base ingredients. Spanish priests following along with the conquistadors noted the Mayans and other indigenous native cultures used fermented drinks to celebrate special days and fiestas. Corn was a basic food stuff and a staple of the early American (pre-Columbian) cultures.

One type of beer archeologists know as “chicha” was made by chewing corn and then spitting it into the fermenting pot. The mixture was then boiled and let stand to ferment on its own.

There are still a few corn-based beers produced (although most brewers leave the chewing and spitting stage out of the process!).

A few years back, the folks at Dogfish Head Craft Ales tried to reproduce a limited edition corn beer based on the chicha recipe. They called it, appropriately  enough, Chicha.

According to Dogfish Head, “Chicha is the quintessential native corn beer throughout Central and South American. Indigenous versions with local variations exist in Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and many other countries.

“Dogfish Head Chicha is most closely based upon Peruvian brewing traditions. We’ve sourced indigenous ingredients to make the most authentic interpretation possible: organic pink Peruvian pepper corns, yellow maize and organic Peruvian purple maize. We also use local (US) strawberries – a traditional chicha ingredient that we chose to source locally as we were worried Peruvian strawberries would spoil in transit. The most exotic and unique component of this project, from the perspective of the American beer drinker, happens before the beer is even brewed.

“As per tradition, instead of germinating all of the grain to release the starches, the purple maize is milled, moistened in the chicha-makers mouths (which we did in our Rehoboth brewery), and formed into small cakes which are flattened and laid out to dry. The natural ptyalin enzymes in the saliva act as a catalyst and break the starches into more accessible fermentable sugars.

“On brewday the muko, or corn cakes, are added to the mash tun pre-boil along with the other grains. This method might sound strange but it is still used regularly today throughout villages in South and Central America.

“It is actually quite effective and totally sanitary. Since the grain-chewing (known as salivation) happens before the beer is boiled the beer is sterile and free of the wild yeast and bacteria you would find in modern Belgian Lambics. Dogfish Head Chicha is 6.2 percent ABV, cloudy and unfiltered.”

The Mayans weren’t the only folks to brew beer with maize, or corn. Upon landing in the New World, the pilgrims brewed such a beer recipe they learned from local natives.

There aren’t many corn-based beers today. In the brewing process, corn would simply be a little too hard to ferment. In the drinking process, there would be too many unusual tastes to please most American drinkers. (It also has been suggested that corn beer produces much more potent hangovers.)

So ... the world hasn’t come to an end, and there aren’t any good corn-based beers on the market. I guess you’re left with giving the following a try. Enjoy.

Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager Dixie Brewing Co. New Orleans

There are times when settling down to review a beer can be a burden.

Really! There is some bad stuff out there. Yuck!

And then there are the other times, when having to be seriously mindful about what I’m sipping can be a real ‘blessing.’

This is one of those times.

Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager is a dark, dark beer. In Europe it would be simply called a “black beer,” or a schwarzbier.

It pours way the other side of dark. I can only assume light is absorbed into this beer, because none passes through, and none gets out! There are some glimmers of deep, deep red that bounce off the edges.

There is a reasonable head of foam that forms quickly and disappears just as fast. A thin sheen of lacing remains – and continues throughout the session.

This is a heavily, heavily malt-forward lager. In fact, the label announces it is a malt-only brew. I assume that means there are no hops, and that would certainly seem to be the case.

(I do suggest that when exploring a beer, you might not want to read the label up-front. Labels are generally pure marketing, and often over-inflate the brewers claims.)

This is a sweet smelling brew, so reflective of the best European black beers. It is rich with caramel tones, and there are hints of a nuttiness tucked in around the back. Breathing deep, there are evidences of some lighter fruits – apples certainly. As Voodoo warms a bit in the glass there are even some bursts of brown sugar aroma.

This lager is smooth. Very, very smooth. It is more like a luxurious ale than any lager of its class that I have sampled.

This is simply a wonderful experience.

The mild ABV (5 percent) makes drinking Voodoo Lager a real pleasure. It is creamy with hints and  suggestions of all the elements first discovered in the scenting – a soft sweetness tempered even more by a more earthy nutty/fruity blend in the background.

This is a wonderful “sipper” – a brew you can nurse a good time while sitting with good friends telling good tales in front of a good fire.

I’d suggest pairing this with good, hearty fare as a contradictory drink, and with hard-crusted bread and soft cheese as a complimentary brew.

Very, very highly recommended – and great for the holiday season.