What would the month of May be without a good old Cinco de Mayo celebration? It would be less festive, that’s what. Call it what you want, this Mexican holiday (which isn’t even a major holiday in Mexico) is an American drunk fest filled with Coronas, tequila shots and Margaritas. You would think that by reveling in all this Mexican glory, we would know just what it is we’re toasting. Ask anyone what it is and a best guess is usually Mexican Independence Day. While it’s a nice try (Independence Day is September 16), Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates the victory of the Mexican army over the French in 1862. While we may not know much or care about Mexican history, it’s this holiday that indirectly led to the way Mexican beers are brewed to this day.
Generally speaking, Mexican beer isn’t as diverse as the many kinds of American microbrews. Most Mexican beers are either lagers or pilsners, primarily due to the German and Austrian immigrant influence of the late nineteenth century. While the Mexicans may have won the Battle of Puebla on Cinco de Mayo, the French won the second battle in 1863, and the government was forced into exile. With France’s backing, Austria’s Archduke Maximilian became Emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867. During his brief reign, he left an indelible impression on Mexico’s brewing habits that continue to this day. Closely related to Märzen style/Oktoberfest beers, Vienna lager – created in Austria in the early 1840s – is an extremely popular beer style in Mexico and can be easily found here. Beers such as Dos Equis (amber), Bohemia and Negra Modelo are brewed in the Vienna lager tradition that is no longer popular in Austria.
With a little help from the Most Interesting Man in the World, Dos Equis (both lager and amber) is becoming better recognized in the American bar scene. German-born Wilhelm Hasse established the Moctezuma brewery in 1884 where he incorporated the German brewing tradition with his Mexican born beers. As such, he created Dos Equis in 1897 to mark the arrival of the 20th century. Dos Equis lager is my go-to beer when making a michelada.
Probably the most popular Mexican beer we know is Corona Extra, or as we like to call it, Corona. It’s the best-selling import beer in the U.S., and the best-selling Mexican beer in the world. First brewed in 1925 by Cervecería Modelo in Mexico City, this light golden lager is best identified with a slice of lime in the bottle’s neck, which is a completely American-made tradition. The only time you’ll see me put a lime in a beer is squeezed directly on the lip of a can of Tecate or Modelo Especial, sprinkled with salt. Call me a Mexican beer snob if you’d like, but being raised in a Mexican American household and regular trips to Mexico will do that to a person.
Back to Corona, it’s a light tasting, easy beer to drink on a hot summer’s day after mowing the lawn, at the beach, or sharing a bucket at the cantina. What it lacks in flavor when compared to a hearty pale ale/nut brown/insert your favorite craft beer here, it makes up in refreshment. After my inglorious days as a Corona girl giving out key chains and t-shirts on Cinco in Miami, I’ve pretty much retired that beer from my drinking roster unless I’m actually in Mexico, where ALL the Mexican beers taste much better.
Craft beer is the cool thing now and it’s here to stay, that’s a fact. Top selling beers like Corona are also here to stay. While Mexican beer for the most part falls into narrow categories, brewers are experimenting with craft beer and it will be interesting to see what new kinds of beers come from our neighbor to the south. Until then, enjoy those Mexican beauties for what they are and celebrate Cinco Mexican style! Cheers!