The secret to a stable society


Recreating the ancient chicha recipe used at Cerro BaulDonna Nash

❝ A thousand years ago, the Wari empire stretched across Peru. At its height, it covered an area the size of the Eastern seaboard of the US from New York City to Jacksonville. It lasted for 500 years, from 600 to 1100 AD, before eventually giving rise to the Inca. That’s a long time for an empire to remain intact, and archaeologists are studying remnants of the Wari culture to see what kept it ticking. A new study found an important factor that might have helped: a steady supply of beer.

❝ Nearly twenty years ago, Ryan Williams, Donna Nash, and their team discovered an ancient Wari brewery in Cerro Baúl in the mountains of southern Peru. “It was like a microbrewery in some respects. It was a production house, but the brewhouses and taverns would have been right next door,” explains Williams. And since the beer they brewed, a light, sour beverage called chicha, was only good for about a week after being made, it wasn’t shipped offsite–people had to come to festivals at Cerro Baúl to drink it. These festivals were important to Wari society–between one and two hundred local political elites would attend, and they would drink chicha from three-foot-tall ceramic vessels decorated to look like Wari gods and leaders. “People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state,” says Williams. In short, beer helped keep the empire together.

Wouldn’t work, today. Too many calories for the populace at large. Too flavorful for the plastic tastebuds of our fake president.

3 thoughts on “The secret to a stable society

  1. Salud says:

    The Field Museum and Chicago’s Off Color Brewing released a beer based on Nash’s work, a pink ale infused with pepper berries, called Wari Ale; it’s being re-released in Chicago-area stores and bars in June. https://www.ratebeer.com/beer/off-color-wari-chicha-de-molle-inspired-ale/402012/
    Drink of the week: spit, purple corn and an ancient brewery behind Off Color’s Wari ale (Chicago Tribune) https://www.chicagotribune.com/redeye/redeye-off-color-wari-chicha-ale-drink-of-the-week-20160308-story.html See also https://www.dogfish.com/brewery/beer/chicha

  2. Tesguino says:

    How to brew ancient Wari beer (Ars Technica 5/1/19) https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/05/how-to-brew-ancient-wari-beer/
    “…It turned out that the organic molecules still clinging to the insides of the broken pots had come from pepper berries, or moye. If you’ve ever bought a pepper grinder with multicolored peppercorns, you’ve actually eaten moye. The pink peppercorns come from the center of a hard sugary resin, wrapped up in a papery pink peel. That sugary resin is the stuff that goes into moye chicha, which Prof. Nash describes as a little like mead.
    Pepper berries are the perfect choice for chicha brewers who need a reliable, year-round source of material that can be brewed up in a hurry. If you’re an empire trying to put on an impressive show of power for provincial elites and earn their goodwill at the same time, you can’t afford to run short of booze because your maize crops had a rough year.
    Moye trees are more drought-resistant than other traditional chicha ingredients, like corn. In fact, with careful planning, the Wari could have ensured a nearly year-round supply of fresh pepper berries to make chicha for festivals. “Different moye trees are in bloom at different times, so if you were really careful, you can manage the trees so that you have sufficient batches available all the time. But it would require management,” University of North Carolina Greensboro Associate Professor of Anthropology Donna Nash told Ars Technica.
    …Fortunately, a member of Nash’s local excavation crew had an aunt in a remote village who still brewed old-school moye chicha, and she evidently didn’t mind showing a group of archaeologists how it was done.
    To make moye chicha, brewers steep the pepper berries in boiling water for about 10 minutes to melt the resin, then strain out the peppercorns and let the melted resin ferment for about five days. That’s about half the time—and about half the effort—it takes to make the corn version, which must have been an advantage for ancient brewers rushing to prepare for a big feast.”
    See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schinus_molle#History

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