Recently, I decided to fill common-beer-format with a ton of open source brewing data: the proteins and sugars in fermentables, the essential oils in hops, and the reference data for the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program style guides. Getting this deep into the data behind modern brewing taught me a lot. Not only did my technical understanding of brewing improve, but so did my historic knowledge.
For those who don’t know, the BJCP guidelines split beers into 34 broad categories such as American Wild Ale, Strong American Ale, and Pale Malty European Lagers. Each of these are broken into sub-categories, and helps ensure that beer tastings and competitions compare like to like within a set of helpful guidelines. This sounds great in theory, but the implementation has two particular faults:
- The guidelines make several unusual distinctions that separate beers with similar flavor profiles, brewing processes, and target data points. For example, the Polish Piwo Grodziskie is distinct from the Smoked Beer category on the premise that it’s not common in modern times; however, this means Dariusz’s brew is in the category as Here Gose Nothin’ from Destihl- despite how different the two are.
- The guidelines classify European beers, especially those from the United Kingdoms, through a much finer lens than anywhere else in the world. Of the 34 styles, 7 come from the the British Isles, 6 are mass labeled as European, 5 are American, 2 are Belgian, 1 is German, and 1 is Czech. Rice and maize based beers have no standalone categories, save for being used as an alternative grain, despite their popularity across Asia and Central and South America.
The first issue is a by-product of lumping beer categories based on their marketization. The guidelines defer to mass-market categorizations in a few places, and commercially available examples are listed in each sub-section. Both of these are strange given the BJCP’s roots in homebrewing. The second is a far larger error.
Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of cooking in human civilization, and examples can be found in each and every bed of civilization across the world. Even when narrowed to the scope of fermented, grain-based beverages, the process is nigh-universal. Ignoring the centuries upon centuries of brewing innovations and traditions from Asia and the Early Americas is to ignore the history of beer itself.
So, with that in mind, what exactly is Tepache?
Historically, Tepache was a Nahuan fermented drink made from maize which vaguely resembles the Tejuino that has survived into modern times. Tepache, on the other hand, has evolved in a very different way, and now calls for pineapple- in most cases, the rinds, but the fruit is also used in a fair amount of recipes. Like most dishes with a long history, a ton of variations come into existence and are refined through trial and error. If you’re looking to try this experiment at home, here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 medium-large pineapple, ripe (~2 pounds)
- 1 pound of piloncillo (If you can’t find it, try another minimally processed cane sugar like Jaggery or Demerara.)
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 4-5 cloves
The fermentation couldn’t be easier. Simply rinse and scrub the entire pineapple, and cut it into wedges. If you’re looking for a more traditional recipe, reserve the fruit and just use the bits outermost bits, peel and all. Dissolve the piloncillo in warm water with the spices, and add everything to your trusty fermentation vessel of choice- topping off to ~1 gallon of fluid. Let it run until fermentation crashes, and then chill. Serve it cold with lime in a Tajin rimmed glass, and you have the perfect summer history lesson.