Tibetan Chang: How to Make Rice Beer

Drechang – Tibetan rice beer.
Drechang – Tibetan rice beer.

Tibetan chang is an alcoholic drink that is made of barley, rice or millet. Tradtionally, it is a very common part of life. Tibetans drink it at funerals and celebrations, while working and playing, and at all ages. Little kids get a little taste of chang and many elders drink it as well. Just about everybody drinks it during Losar, Tibetan New Year. (Here’s a how-to guide for celebrating Losar.)

In Central Tibet, it is drunk especially while doing the harvesting. Farmers can’t usually afford to buy alcohol but they can easily make chang on their own, since they grow their own barley.

In Tibet, chang is made from barley, while in exile, where barley is not as common, we use other grains. In Tibetan communities in India, it is usually rice or millet. Certain areas of Arunachal Pradesh, which are close to Tibet, also use barley.

For this post, we are making rice chang, called drechang. We learned this recipe from Kelsang Chodron, who learned it from her mother, who was a professional chang maker. Thank you, Kelsang la!

Watch Kelsang la make the drechang in the video below, and get the written recipe below:

Ingredients

  • 5 cups jasmine rice (any white rice is okay except basmati, which would not work very well)
  • The normal amount of water you would use to cook your rice.
  • 1 full tablespoon of dry yeast, which Tibetans call either pab or chanzi. The pab we used here came from India, but you can find it also in Asian stores, called Dried Yeast (see the photos below for the package.)
Dried Yeast
Dried yeast, called pab or chanzi for chang making.

Preparation

  • One important thing is that your containers and your work surfaces and your hands be very clean, free especially of oil or salt, which will ruin your chang.
  • Thoroughly wash and dry a large container with a lid to put the rice in for fermentation. We used a plastic one because that’s what we had but you could pretty much use anything. Central Tibetan farmer families we know would use, for example, a ceramic pot.
  • Prepare a clean surface to work with your rice after it is cooked. We cleared our kitchen table and laid down a large, new, very clean plastic bag on it. 
  • Wash your hands very well. (This is a strong directive from Kelsang’s mother’s teachings 🙂
The ground chanzi.
The ground chanzi.

Making the Chang

  • Grind enough pab/chanzi for 1 full tablespoon to a fine powder.
  • Cook your rice as you normally would. We use a rice cooker, with 5 cups of jasmine rice, and water filled to the 5 cup line.
  • Once the rice is cooked, stir around the rice in the rice cooker or pot your cooked it in. You want to sort of loosen and fluff the rice up – you don’t want it packy or clumpy at all.
  • Spread the rice onto your very clean working surface to cool it. Work through the rice when it is cool enough to touch, loosening up any clumpy bits.
  • You want to cool the rice down so that there is just a little bit of warmth left, really not very warm at all, sort of a tepid temperature.
    • If the rice is too hot when you add the yeast, you will get sour chang.
    • If the rice is too cold, it will take longer to ferment, which is okay, if you have time.
  • Sprinkle the ground up chanzi over the rice, then mix it in very well with your (clean 🙂 hands.
  • Pour the rice mixture in your prepared container.
  • Cover it with a lid.
  • Swaddle it like a baby in a couple of warm blankets.
Mixing the gound chanzi with the cooled rice.
Mixing the gound chanzi with the cooled rice.

Fermentation and After

  • Leave it 4-5 days in a warm place. Don’t open it in the meantime. Kelsang said when we started to smell the fermentation strongly, it would be ready, but we never smelled anything and after 7 days we opened it up. We think this is because the lid on our container is quite tight. The warmer the spot, the faster the rice will ferment, though you don’t want it in a really hot spot, like next to a heater, or it can rot. This happened to us the first time we tried to make chang 🙁
  • You’ll see in the image that when the chang is ready, the rice doesn’t look dramatically different than when it went in. There is some condensation on the sides of the container and a few inches of liquid at the bottom of the container. The main way you will be able to tell it is ready is that it will smell like it has fermented, a bit alcoholic. 
  • Once your chang is done, you will want to transfer it to another clean container, and add about 3 cups of water, and then put it in the refrigerator. (You can add as much or little water as you like actually, to make your chang stronger or weaker.)
  • Although the chang is already fermented at this point, you’ll want to wait 24 hours or so after you add the water before you start drinking it.
  • You can keep this chang mixture in your fridge for quite a while, possibly months, or even longer. Tibetans can keep it up to a year. (You’ll have to taste a tiny bit each time to be sure it has not gone bad.)
After the rice has fermented. Note the couple of inches of liquid at the bottom.
After the rice has fermented. Note the couple of inches of liquid at the bottom.
Your chang after adding the 3 cups of water.
Your chang after adding the 3 cups of water.

How to drink the chang

  • There are two ways you can drink your chang:
  • One way is to strain out the rice pieces and drink the thin, milky liquid.
  • Another way is to keep the rice, and to mix the contents of your container, as is, with some khapse, dried cheese, sugar and butter, and heat all that up. This is called changkol, and we will show you how to do this in another post, coming soon. 
  • Of course you can do a little bit of both, and strain out some liquid to drink as chang, while keeping some of the combined rice liquid mixture to make changkol. That’s what we do.
Tibetan Home Cooking

Tibetan Home Cooking

Bring joy to the people you love by making your own delicious, authentic Tibetan meals

Updated on March 12, 2020. First published on December 2, 2012.

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Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip. Learn more about us and YoWangdu here.

Reader Interactions

Comments

    • Lobsang and Yolanda says

      Hi Varun, we’re not sure, but online is probably the best place to look since it’s quite unusual. Best to you.

    • Yash says

      Hey…
      I love drinking Chang on my every visit to Nepal almost every year. I made Chang in my delhi home in this month which is quite hot, all went well but when I open the lid, I saw fungus on the top of the rice but other than that, all was normal the smell, the watery stuff. Is a fungus sign of a spoiled process. Anyway I have added the water and kept aside after removing the fungus from top layer.
      Have you noticed fungus same way.

  1. Nj says

    😂i missed adding yeast…anyway it was just 1 tablespoon of rice, so will restart again. This time yeast with 2-3 cups of cooked rice and not basmati.

  2. David Patterson says

    Do you know if the recipe above would be the same for making Nepalese tongba (with red finger millet)?

    I’ve been trying to find a good recipe for that for ages!

    Also, do you know of an online source for the pab yeast?

    Thanks!

    • Pemba says

      With the tongba, you should wash the millet very well and when you cook do not over cook. If it is over cooked and the outer cover of millet brusts, the tongba will be cloudy when drinking. same process for fermentation and keep it in tight containers or small plastic bags so that it wont go sour when you open it often. Store them for longer period to mature and get the good taste.

  3. Kersten says

    Great tutorial!

    I took some video of the chang making process in Mon, Arunachel Pradesh, India (a Himalayan region just at the border of Tibet and Bhutan).

    What the local villagers call “chang” is what most Tibetans would call “arak” – a stronger and more alcoholic cousin of the chang you have posted here. My video is not really a tutorial but I think it’s interesting to see how it’s actually made in the Himalayas.

    THE VIDEO HERE:

    http://youtu.be/rZOlhpF39jc

    Thanks for all the recipes 🙂

    • Tenzin says

      Hello kersten or yowangdu la,

      Your tape for making Chang to arak was great but very much confession in the beginning as you saying water in the middle pot but later it was Chang, how that chang comes what about the big pot, what was that? Kindly take one more taping,

      Thank
      Tenzin

  4. eric.piney says

    Hi Yowangdu,
    great recipe. I had chang when I was on holiday to Sikkim. I would definitely try making it. By the way what do you do with the remaining fermented rice ?; can we not blend the whole fermented rice mixture with the water then strain it ?

    And also how much chang 5 cups of rice has made ?

    Thank you.

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Eric, Thanks for writing in. Normally Tibetans drink the chang liquid part then put the leftover rice in changkol (see recipe on our site), or just feed it to the farm animals. In Tibet, actually, people make chang from barley, and then when they finish the liquid part some people take the bangma, which is the remaining barley, and make tsampa from it. (See articles also on tsampa.) In Central Tibet, actually, we don’t even do that, and we just feed it to the cows. Sorry, we’re not sure how chang the five cups of rice makes exactly. Basically, the amount of chang you get is variable, depending on how strong you need it, because you can just add more water for more chang, but it will be weaker of course. Thanks for your questions! Best to you.

  5. Tashi says

    Dear Wangdu-la,
    Thank you so much for the dre chang recipe. I’ve made my first chang last week and everything went well. So, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s losar celebration with my first homemade changkol 🙂
    Many Losar Tashi Deleks from Switzerland!

  6. Pasang says

    Hey I was just wondering after your rice has fermented, (mine has worked brilliantly , it smells just like the chyang my aunts make at home) was it cold or hot water you add to create the liquid? And it is crucial it goes into the fridge after adding the water? I only ask because I don’t have a fridge at the moment and may have to borrow a friends if it is important. But this recipe is great, really simple and easy to follow with great results!

    Thucche!

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Pasang, Congrats on your your chang! On the first question, only add cold to create the liquid, never hot. As for the fridge it depends on the weather where you are. If it is cold, you can leave it out, but if warm you need a fridge. In Tibet, we had not fridge, and it was fine 🙂 Let us know how it goes! Our best to you 🙂

  7. ziva says

    Hi: forgot to say by bread flour i mean organic rye flour (high amylase enzyme) .
    another tip: you can add vitamins to yeast to be strong : take a handful of dry grapes and and little water and bring it to a boil let it cool and then crush the grapes in the boiled water, then add only the syrup that is made without the grapes to the rice and then add the yeast. this will give 3 things: more wild yeast from the grapes, nore suger for the yeast to eat , full of vitamins for the yeast that make a super yeast.
    100% natural wine (beer)

  8. ziva says

    Hi: forget to say use organic rye flour.
    And another thing you can add vitamins to the yeast to be stronger like making a dry grapes syrup: boil a handfull dry grapes with a little water (only until boiled)than crush the grapes in that water crush really well and than add the water made with out the grapes after it cools to the rice and the yeas.

  9. ziva says

    anoter thing dont throw away the lees of the finished wine use it to make anoter it is as good as the dry mold . lees is the dead yeast on the rice that is left after fomantation just add the dry baking yeast again if you dont the wine will be a weak one. you can also eat it .

    the dry mold is actually a fungus rice ball .

  10. ziva says

    I made my rice wine (beer) by using bread flour insted of the mold and add a dry baking yeast.
    see the mold breake the starch on the rice to suger and the yeast eat the suger and piss urine that is the alcohol.
    amylase in the flour break the starch to suger for the yeast to feed and piss.
    it takes about 5 days.

      • ziva says

        Hi: you will need 1 spoon not too full of the flour for two full cups of rice.
        activate the amylase in the flour by mixing the flour with water in a cup no need for warm water,mix with the rice and then add the activated yeast.

    • Pierre says

      Ziva,

      Thank you for your receipt, I understand that you use flour ( wheat ? ) plus dry yeast instead of the mold… Is it possible with this method to produce fermented rice ?

      Thanks in advance

      Pierre

  11. vikram says

    Hi:

    A very well explained process on making of Chang…thanks very much!

    My question is: based on the quantity you have used and the three cups of water, what is the alcoholic strength that the Chang reaches during consumption? If you dont have the actual percentage then perhaps a guesswork when compared with commercial brands to get an idea – as strong as a Budweiser, Carling, Stella, Foster, Tennents? or does this need to be compared with winesThis is to understand how strong it gets so that one can dilute accordingly?

    Also, did you mean that once the three cups full of liquid is consumed, one can top up with a further amount of water (similar quantity), leave it for 24 hours and more Chang will be ready for consumption?

    Please advise. Really excited to get started 🙂

    Regards,
    Vik

  12. jaipal says

    hi i live in delhi and have often heard about chang . i want to try this but where i can find the pub or chanzi . Can you please help where i can find the pub in delhi. Thanks in advance

  13. Sheldon says

    Hi.

    Thanks for this recipe. I made my first batch of Chang this week. I let it ferment for 5 days, added the water and let it sit overnight. I just strained my first little glass and am surprised to find that it’s very sweet. It tastes a bit like sweet Kefir (just a slight yogurtish flavor) and doesn’t seem very potent at all. Not much of an alcohol aroma. Does that mean it didn’t ferment quite long enough so the sugars didn’t convert to alcohol or is it supposed to be sweet?

    And if it’s not fermented enough will it ferment more if I let it return to room temperature or does fermentation stop as soon as the water is added?

    Thanks for any insight you can share.

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Sheldon,
      If you used the dried yeast, the pab, the dried yeast from Asian stores pictured in the recipe, it does tend to be a bit on the sweet side. So the sweetness seems normal. But it should have a pretty strong alcoholic smell and taste. It sounds like yours is ready, and if you want it to get more alcoholic, you can put it back in the fridge for a while and it should get stronger. (Ours does.) Sorry, we don’t actually know the fermentation process very well as we are just learning this recipe from our friend Kelsang. Please do let us know how it goes.

  14. Laura says

    I am having trouble figuring out the difference between “fermented” and “rancid”! I made my rice, which came out a bit overcooked and sticky, so that may have messed it up. But I prepared it exactly as directed anyway. I kept it wrapped up for 5 days in containers like yours then smelled it. It smelled strange but sort of alcoholic I guess, and I couldn’t tell if it was bad or just fermented. It was in the same room with my wood stove, not directly next to it but it is a very warm room. I took it out tonight and transferred it to a new container; there wasn’t the liquid in the bottom like yours but there was condensation. Some of it seemed to have a thick milkiness but most of it didn’t. I added the water and refrigerated it. I know it said to wait 24 hours before drinking it, but I taste tested a little sip and it tastes strange and I suspect it might be just rancid. 🙁 Is there any way to tell if it’s spoiled or if it’s how it’s supposed to be? I don’t know how it should taste. I was excited to make this for my first Losar celebration but now I am not sure if I should drink it. :-/

    • yowangdu says

      Sorry that this happened to you, Laura. It definitely can be tricky. Something similar happened to us another time when we stored the container too close to a heater. It’s hard to know without out seeing it and smelling it, but one way of course to tell is if there is any mold at all on the top of the rice. Good chang doesn’t taste rancid — it tastes a little alcoholic but a fairly light taste otherwise, not something we would call strange, so perhaps you might best discard this batch. If you’re up for experimenting again, you can check the fermentation after a few days. Your room conditions could well make it ferment faster than ours. Anyway good for you for trying and hope your next chang goes better!

      • Laura says

        Thank you for your input! I’m sad to have wasted the rice and that I must throw it out, but hopefully I will have better luck next time. There was no mold at all, but I still think it has a rancid edge to it. Maybe it was just too warm after all, as you said. Well, practice makes perfect and making it was enjoyable so I will try again! I’d like to try small batches until I figure it out but I have no idea what the rice-yeast ratio would be so I guess I should stick with the 5 cup recipe. Thanks for a great website, I’ve spent a lot of time reading all the interesting articles on Losar and other traditions. 🙂

    • Tom says

      Hello all, I have been making American style and craft beer for many years and can tell you there is a a relationship to the fermentation temperature and yeast flavor. If it is too warm, sourness or other less appealing flavor characteristics will develop. Ideal fermentation temp for ale is in the 60’s and lager beer even colder. Generally above 75 degrees the trouble begins. The more complex the barley, rice or other grain components are, the longer one should ferment. Budweiser, and its mexican cousin Corona, are like family because they have pretty much the same recipe barley and a smaller amount of rice. The best American beers are usually 100% barley. The great trick with that is sprouting the barley beforehand, which is called malting. Thus, malted barley. Losar blessings to all in the Yowangdu universe. Will you celebrate it this Fri or later on in early March?

  15. Suzanne Delaney says

    This is chang exactly the way I was taught how to make it by my Sherpa lama. I’m going to make some for Losar. I’d love to forward this to someone, but I do NOT do Facebook or Tweet. Any other way to do this?

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