Home brewing in Colombia is not part of some increasingly popular hipster trend, it’s really more common and related to indigenous culture. There are three fermented drinks which I’m familiar with: chicha, champús, and masato. Chicha has different varieties depending on the fruit, and it’s also found in other countries around the Andes. It’s corn-based and has a lot of panela. The champús, or more específically champús valluno, is a variation of the champús, made with panela, lulo, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and served cold. Masato can be corn or rice-based (I prefer rice), and also has cinnamon and cloves.
Making chicha is really an art. It comes from the indigenous people who use to drink it during ceremonies. Apparently they loved this drink and so did the working-class mestizos, however, the Spanish, mostly the church, did not like it because it got people drunk and unruly. They disapproved and tried to prohibit the drink, but that didn’t stop it’s public consumption at the public chicherías near the markets. Prohibition was also related to trying to get people to drink beer, which due its more expensive production costs, was also more expensive (and also took more to get you drunk). They tried to market chicha as dirty due to its process (originally the fermentation process of chicha was facilitated by chewing the corn to grind it and it was served in big vats) and lack of hygiene in general, while they marketed beer as clean. Finally, in 1948 they officially prohibited* making and selling it, but that had no immediate effect as chicha was consumed in vast amounts at parties hosted in the now clandestine chicherías. Here is some anti-chicha propaganda:
The generations that followed obviously became beer-drinking and those chicherías eventually closed. Nowadays, the only people who seriously drink chicha are the mamertos and the people from the barrio La Perseverancia, oh and let’s not forget the foreigners. Where do they drink chicha? There’s a place in La Candelaria called el Chorro de Quevedo, that’s where I tried it, and it’s where all the foreigners go**, but I don’t recommend it there. The best chicha can be found at the barrio La Perseverancia (around calle 33-26a between carrera5 and circumvalar, look for the market or central plaza). I guess what you’re wondering now is,”what does chicha taste like?” and I think that my answer really can’t be understood unless you’ve tasted something similarly-fermented. It’s strong and smells strong. In fact, if you have ever tasted Weiss-beer that’s somewhat close. (Syd says it is kind of like chunky kombucha.)
Squirreled away in the electronics district of the center is a place*** that has the most delicious masato I’ve ever had. It’s thick and served in glass cups. I think if you’re not too keen on trying chicha, you can head over to this place or any panadería and give masato a try.
*really good video (in Spanish)
**be warned, most foreigners get diarrhea when they try it, so maybe if you’re feeling intrepid share one cup between 4 or 5 people
***Pastel Gloria Doña Pachita
Cra 9 #21-18