Tepache Time

If you forced us to choose one drink for the rest of our lives (please don’t!), it would be red wine, hands down.  From simple mass-market bottles on our weekly pizza-and-Netflix night to beautiful, earthy Burgundies to accompany a fancy French meal, red wine is our jam.  That said, as the mercury starts creeping higher and higher in Charleston every spring, we find ourselves looking for something a bit crisper and colder.  Often that’s white or rosé (what can we say, we love our wine!), but we’re always on the lookout for new options – so when, on the hottest day of the year so far, Tyler came across a Bon Appétit video about a fermented Mexican pineapple drink called tepache, it seemed like a perfect time to broaden our horizons!

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Tepache (pronounced tuh-PAH-chay) is a popular summertime agua fresca on the streets of Mexico, where it is often homemade and served in large plastic bags wrapped around a drinking straw. Very lightly alcoholic (usually 1-2% ABV), it is made by fermenting pineapple rinds, piloncillo (unprocessed cane sugar) and spices for 2-3 days before being consumed.  It can also be bottled and sent through a secondary fermentation, which will produce a carbonated version.

tepache bag
Image Source: themijachronicles.com

Following the Bon Appétit recipe, we fermented our first batch of tepache using whole pineapples instead of the rinds only.  The pineapple’s skin plays host to its own source of natural yeast, which allows the beverage to self-ferment without introducing additional yeast.  The pineapples are mixed together with piloncillo (if you can’t find it, you can use dark brown sugar and it will still turn out great), cinnamon, a habanero chile and water before being left to ferment.  After three days of resting in a warm, dark closet, the tepache will be ready to be sipped on its own or enjoyed in a summery cocktail.

To get more bang for your buck, you can easily make a second batch of tepache once your first batch has been strained off of the fruit and spices in your fermenting jar.  Simply top off the jar with water and add 1-2 tablespoons of additional sugar to reinvigorate the yeast.  At the end of the experiment, we ended up with a little over three liters of tepache to enjoy over the coming days and weeks.

If you prefer a bit of fizz in your drink, you can bottle your tepache and send it back to the closet to carbonate during a secondary fermentation of 24-36 hours.  A word of warning: our first batch underwent a 48-hour secondary fermentation and was so strongly carbonated that opening the bottle was like unleashing a geyser in our kitchen sink – so we would recommend definitely maxing out your secondary at 36 hours.

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After secondary fermentation but before the geyser!

Tepache is great on its own over ice, but it’s also a refreshing mixer if you’d prefer something a bit stronger.  So far, we’ve enjoyed it mixed with Corona in a spicy homemade michelada, on the rocks with a splash of Diplomatico rum or Espolon blanco tequila and as a substitute for plain pineapple juice in piña colada.  Whatever your pleasure, tepache gives you the makings of a fantastic tropical drink – just add your favorite spirit and a bit of ice, put on some Jimmy Buffet, and enjoy!  Salud!


Tepache Recipe

Equipment:

  • A large, fermentation grade glass vessel with a flip top lid
  • Two 1-liter fermentation grade glass bottles
  • A wide mouth funnel
  • A muddling stick, or something that can break down the pineapple in the jar (we used a rolling pin stood on end)
  • A mesh strainer
  • Cheesecloth

Ingredients:

  • 2 large whole pineapples (preferably organic)
  • 1 cup piloncillo or dark brown sugar
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1 habanero or other chile (optional)
  • Water to fill the vessel

Begin by removing the top and bottom of each pineapple, being sure to leave the skin on the pineapple.  It is very important that the pineapple remain unwashed as to not remove the naturally occurring yeast on its skin (hence our recommendation for organic!).  Split the pineapple in quarters lengthwise, then cut each quarter into 1” wide triangles.

If using a chile, split it lengthwise (do not remove seeds or membranes) and add to the jar along with the cinnamon and piloncillo/brown sugar.

Add approximately 1.5 cups of water to the jar, close the lid and shake vigorously to dissolve the sugar.

Add the pineapple chunks to the jar and then fill until 1” of space remains in the jar.  Since this is a fermented beverage, it is critical to leave room at the top of the jar as the fermentation will produce carbon dioxide – not doing so can cause the vessel to explode upon opening due to the buildup of pressure due to fermentation.

Cap the jar, secure the lid and place in a warm, dark environment for 2-3 days.  Check daily to ensure that white foam is gathering on top of the liquid, which means that your tepache has begun fermenting.

After three days, carefully open the lid of the jar and skim off any foam that has accumulated.  Pass the tepache through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.

At this point, the tepache can be consumed right away.  If you would prefer a carbonated tepache, bottle it and stash it away for a secondary fermentation of 24-36 hours.  Once complete, re-bottle and refrigerate.

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