Ever heard of quinoa beer? Probably not, because the experimental brewery Andelot has only just perfected the brew and got it ready for placing on the market. Someone who has in fact heard of it is ‘beer architect’ engineer and microbiologist Roger Mussche, who attended the birth of the latest odd-men-out in the extensive range of Flemish beers. He told us the wonderful tale of the new, gluten-free beer.
What is quinoa, and why is it the main ingredient in a new type of beer?
Roger Mussche:Quinoa is a sort of cereal that, until recently, was unknown in our region. It’s grown in the high Andes, where it’s been a staple diet of the people of the mountains for the past six thousand years. It’s known as “the rice of the Incas”, a cereal that can resist severe weather conditions, cold and aridity at great heights. The protein content is twice as high as that of other cereals, the iron content is up to six times greater, and it contains loads of minerals and vitamins. It came to be known in our regions via the ‘fair trade’ circuit. The Spanish conquistadores prohibited its cultivation in former times, because they held quinoa responsible for the fierce resistance the Incas offered them. But the crop survived, and many smallholders in Bolivia and Peru still make a living from it today.
How did you become involved in attempts to use quinoa as the basic ingredient for beer?
Roger Mussche:The story begins with an African from the historic Lunda Empire of Central South Africa, now spread over Angola, Congo and Zambia. His name is Henrique Kabia. (Roger Mussche learnt that his friend had died in an accident in Switzerland on the very of this interview). In Africa, traditional beers are brewed by wise women, ‘mamas’. Kabia’s great-great-grandmother was one of their number. They brewed beer from palm nuts. The art was handed down from generation to generation, until Henrique also eventually inherited the traditional brewing method. In 1993 he arrived in Holland as a refugee, after a long period in France, where he had turned his hand to brewing again in his back garden. That finally led to the marketing, under the brand name Mongozo, of two beers: Mongozo Palmnut and Mongozo Banana.
Mongozo palm contains 7% alcohol and is made from the African palm nut. It is the modern version of traditional beer from Angola. Mongozo banana is a tropical fruit beer, brewed according to an old tradition that comes from the Massai, who live in East Africa. It contains 4.8% alcohol. It has a Max Havelaar quality mark, which guarantees that the farmers in developing countries have been paid a fair price has been paid for their bananas. So there was always a connection with ‘fair trade’ projects in the developing countries.
The teamwork with Kabia, supported by the know-how and experience of the Ghent School of Brewers KAHO-St. Lieven, with Prof. Aerts, was evidently highly productive. The idea was conceived to brew beer with a basis of quinoa, which is completely gluten-free. A brewing method was developed with KAHO–St. Lieven to brew a Mongozo-Quinua. All Mongozo beers are brewed by the Huyghe Brewery in Melle. At the request of the market, a gluten-free, four-cereal beer is brewed in the bio-certified Andelot brewery in Lochristi, namely chica beer. Brewing quinoa, rice, buckwheat and sorghum creates particular problems, due among other things to the very fine structure of quinoa, which is very difficult to grind. The final recipe is almost exclusively based on quinoa. And that’s how Mongozo quinia came into being.
The quinoa seed comes from Anapqui, a national organization of quinoa growers in Bolivia that delivers approximately 60% of the raw material. The beer contains 5.9%, has a typical beer taste, and the aftertaste is delicious without being overwhelmingly bitter. It undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle and is not physically stabilized, because no additives are used to remove the proteins and the polyphenols. The result may be a touch of cloudiness, like you get in a ‘witteke’, but that has no effect at all in the taste formation.
When will the new Quinoa beer be available in the commercial circuit?
Roger Mussche:The product has only just been tested. True, it already has a gluten-free certificate and a biocertificate, but production has not yet started for the domestic market. Export, yes. We want to put the beer on the market via the ‘fair trade’ outlets and the bioshops. It has to be pointed out that the return on quinoa beer is rather lower than for malt beer. So it will cost more. It must also be stressed that Mongozo beers are made exclusively with exotic and/or biological ingredients that are bought from farmers in developing countries for a fair price.