Say "Hola" to a Mexican Beer

May 30, 2001

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The Bottom Line There's a HECK of a lot more to Mexican beer than Corona -- here's a quick rundown on today's best Mexican beers.

There's a heck of a lot more to Mexican beers than the Madison Avenue images of beautiful sun tanned tourists drinking light bodied pale lagers on the shores of a beautiful white sand beach and then throwing their cell phones into the surf when the idyllic setting is broken by an unexpected ring. The beaches do look like the commercials, but you'd sure never find a Corona bottle sitting on my table!

Basically, there's three things to know about Mexican beers:
* The first thing to know is that almost all beer in Mexico is produced by two big breweries: basically, Corona and Dos Equis.
* The second thing to know is that most beers are pale, light-bodied everyday lagers that aren't much different than any American or Canadian pale lager -- but there are a few exceptions.
* The last thing to know is that craft brewing is relatively rare in Mexico. Brewpubs and micros just don't exist (for the most part).

The Big Two Breweries
Grupo Modelo is the biggest brewing company in Mexico and is based in Mexico City. They have breweries in several cities throughout Mexico, including Guadalajara. They are probably best known to epinions readers as the brewers of Corona, although that pale lager is far from being their best product. Within Mexico, their biggest selling brand is probably Modelo Especial which is a premium pale lager that's more comparable in quality to Dos XX than to the lightweight Corona. My favorite beer from this brewery is the chocolatey smooth Negra Modelo.

Cerveceria Cuahtemoc Moctezuma is the older of the two companies and is based in Monterrey, with breweries in several other cities throughout Mexico, including Orizaba Veracruz. They are best known to epinions readers as the brewers of Dos XX, although they brew a wide range of other products, including many pale light beers, such as Sol (which competes directly with Corona). My favorite beer from this brewery is Bohemia, except in December when I can buy the rich dark Nochebuena.

Most beers sold in Mexico are standard light bodied lager beers that are similar to U.S. and Canadian lagers. While these account for most of Mexico's beer sales, there are three beers sold by Mexico's two big brewers that stand out as being substantially better than any beer made by any major U.S. or Canadian brewer...

Best of the Best
- Negra Modelo (GM): chocolatey smooth dark lager beer similar in style to a Munich dunkles
- Nochebuena (winter seasonal) (CCM): copper colored vienna style lager with a firm nutty malt flavor and a rich, robust body
- Bohemia (CCM): hoppy pilsner style lager with a strong noble hop signature and a somewhat dry flavor

Ordinary Pale Lagers
These beers are all standard light-bodied lagers. If you usually drink any major U.S. or Canadian brand, then any of these will taste familiar to you. Dos Equis and Modelo Especial are sometimes viewed as "premium" brands, while Pacifico has a certain cachet on the Pacific coast, and Corona and Sol are both super light bodied brands with painted labels and that appeal to a "fun in the sun" kind of marketing mentality. All of these beers are pretty much interchangeable, with the possible exception of Dos Equis which has a bit stronger, almost grassy, hop signature.

By the way, while all of these beers are lagers, if you go into a bar just about anywhere in Mexico and just ask for a "lager," you will get a Dos Equis clara (the green bottle). I don't know why.

- Carta Blanca (CCM)
- Corona (GM)
- Dos Equis (clara) (CCM)
- Modelo Especial (GM)
- Pacifico (GM)
- Sol (CCM)
- Superior (CCM)
- Tecate (CCM)

Ordinary Amber Lagers
Most of these beers are based loosely on the marzen (vienna) style, although they are all substantially lighter than the German classics on which they are modeled. Dos Equis amber (oscura) is the best known of these, is the best in terms of quality, and is the only one of the three exported to the United States. Dos Equis amber is very rarely sold in Mexico, although I have found it occassionally in the states of Jalisco and Guerrero.

- Dos Equis (oscura) (CCM)
- Indio (CCM)
- Victoria (GM)

Victoria seems to have a reputation as the "cheesy" beer brand -- sort of like Old Milwaukee or Milwaukee's Best in the U.S. As a result, you can often find it in big chain stores at prices below that of other brands, even though it's really a little bit better and more interesting than brands like Corona or Tecate. Maybe it's the cheesy yellow paper label...

Seldom Seen
- Estrella (generally available around Guadalajara) (GM): ordinary light lager, a little lighter than average
- Leon Negra (generally available only in Yucatan) (GM): ordinary amber lager, a little darker than average

Most of these beers are listed here in epinions, and I strongly suggest reading some of the many excellent reviews for more information about each of these brews. I've posted a few reviews on some of these brands but I also suggest reading any reviews written by beerfly, BruGuru, 4-1-1, counsel, or Bryan_Carey, to name just a few of the reviewers who often post excellent reviews in the beer categories. (I apologize if I've overlooked your favorite beer reviewer...)

Craft Brewing in Mexico
Craft brewing never took off with quite the gusto it had in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Nonetheless, brewpubs and microbreweries do exist in Mexico. I visited one brewpub in Cancun in that nondescript shopping mall on Kukulkikan where the Rainforest Cafe is located, but when I was there about a year and a half ago, the place was closed -- I couldn't tell if it was for good, or just for renovations (please send me an email if you've been there recently). Two years ago we'd stopped in at a small ale brewpub in Mexico City's Polanco district, but I couldn't find it when I was there three weeks ago. I can only assume that it was yet another casualty in the small beer wars. Still, craft brewing lives on in Mexico...

I've visited the Sierra Madre Brewing Company in Monterrey on several occasions. The brewery is very large, modern, and expensive looking. They make lagers, but most are light-bodied and not particularly noteworthy -- they remind me of beers brewed by the Gordon Biersch chain in California. If you like Gordon Biersch beers, you'd love Sierra Madre.

The last few times I've visited Monterrey, I've enjoyed several different brews bearing the Casta label. Their brewery is located in the sprawling industrial suburb of Apodaca, just outside the city fringes. My favorite of their beers was the Dorado, which was a cleanly brewed golden ale with a firm malty flavor and just a bit of toasty biscuit-like flavor. Quite excellent. When we visited the brewery about a month ago, we were told that British beer writer Michael Jackson had recently toured the brewery and that his favorite beer was the Morena. The Morena is a full-bodied copper colored Scottish ale with a bit of a fruity nose and what I felt was a touch of phenol: a very complex brew. While I defer to Jackson's more experienced assessment that Morena is the superior beer, I still personally liked the Dorado better....I hope Jackson writes about this brewery, as well as Sierra Madre and other Mexican craft brewers -- I can't wait to see what he thinks about them.

The last thing to know about Mexican beers is that they're often served with a slice of lime. I don't like limes in my beer, so I always take it out of the bottle, hand it to the waiter, and say "Chupe el limon." (Hehehe, just kiddin'! Don't really try it because it's very rude and just might land you headfirst out in the parking lot.)

Better to just raise the bottle and say "Salud!"

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