Just like other holidays that have been whored out and watered down, Cinco de Mayo is no exception. As I went grocery shopping this evening after work, the Tostitos were on sale, as was the Old El Paso salsa that you mix with some Velveeta cheese, pick up a case of Corona Light, and say you’ve celebrated “Cinco de Drinko.” I cringe. That’s how most Americanos celebrate a holiday they know nothing about, and drunkenly shout out, “Happy Mexican Independence Day man! I love you dude!” For starters, Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day. It marks the Battle of Puebla, where the Mexicans defeated the French in 1862. Not a large holiday in Mexico, it has somehow become the Mexican version of St. Patrick’s Day. While I’m not one to scoff at a reason to party, I am one for accuracy.
Take, for instance, the michelada. Someone recently asked me, “what is a michelada?” So here I am, on the eve of the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, here to explain a little bit of Mexican and beer history. This beloved Mexican beverage has become my favorite beer cocktail. Sure, there are times to savor straight up beer (99% of the time), then there are the times to squeeze a lime in your Corona (summer time). Michelada time can be anytime — whenever the mood strikes.
The first time I had a michelada was in the early 90s, in Mexico City’s then-trendy Zona Rosa. My cousin Ady ordered it for me and promised me that I would like it. I was hooked instantly. Even as I write now, my mouth waters in a reflex just thinking about the beer-lime-salt concoction. Fast forward to 2007 or so. Mexico City, random bar in Polanco, one of the city’s now-trendy areas. Same cousin, but now orders a michelada Cuban style. I was thrown a curve. What had happened in the span of 15 years? I thought a michelada was beer with lime and ice, with a salt-rimmed glass? Seems that there are different versions of the beer drink, and they are all yummy. You can have it simple, or with Maggi sauce, tomato juice, and/or hot pepper sauce.
Sounds crazy. It is. It works. It’s a symphony for the tastebuds. True beer afficionados in those snooty blogs condemned Mexican style beers like Miller Chill, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Chelada (Bud Light pre-mixed with Clamato and lime!), and Michelob Ultra with Cactus Lime. Sure, they are catchy, appeal to women watching their carb intake, and not true beer drinker’s beers. I agree. However, these are pretty good beers to make a michelada. Trust me on this one. Unfortunately, I am unable to get Bud Light Chelada in Upstate New York, so whenever I’m in South Florida I’ll stock up. There are so many ways to prepare the michelada, so I’m including a decent recipe from Saveur, and some historical info and recipes from Wikipedia.
Mexican beers are great for making micheladas too (such as Modelo, Tecate, Dos Equis Lager), but I much prefer to drink those solo or with a squeeze of lime and salt right on the lip of the can. Just the way my parents did it when I was a kid. The memory of sampling beer with lime and salt from a can, on the beaches of Acapulco as a small child, breeze running through my hair, smell of ocean and coconuts — little did I know that was my first michelada.