Few things beat the heat of a scorching summer like an icy Mexican lager. And while there are plenty to choose from, a few stand out as eminently enjoyable with or without the addition of lime – Modelo Especial immediately springs to mind. This pilsner is worth drinking on its own or with just about any type of food. It is also delicious with, or preferably without, green citrus fruits.
If you’ve ever noticed a striking similarity between the best Mexican beers and much of Europe’s flavorful lagers, it’s because there is a strong historical connection between the two. According to beer writer Jose Ruiz, the modern Mexican beer industry was largely influenced by German and Austrian immigrants who opened breweries in Mexico during the reign of Mexican Emperor Maximiliano I.
The Austrian Archduke, installed by the French during the Civil War era, was not exactly adopted by the nation of Mexico – his brief stint as Emperor was cut short by a firing squad – but the Germanic brewing traditions associated with his reign have persevered to this day. The Vienna Lager, in particular, has maintained a stronghold in the nation’s palace, with demand for the style in Mexico far exceeding its popularity in Austria.
Ruiz notes that at the start of the 20th century, Mexico had more than 35 independent breweries in operation, but after World War II there were massive consolidations within the industry that led to two large brewing companies taking control. most of the market.
Today, however, despite a trend for beer to be seen by many Mexican consumers as simply a light or dark drink, the burgeoning craft beer industry is beginning to change these attitudes by brewing everything from pale ales in the altbiers.
You might know one of my all-time favorites, a collaborative Mexican hot chocolate riff called Xocoveza, brewed by Stone Brewing and Cerveceria Insurgente de Tijuana.
A friend who lived in Mexico City swears by a popular beer in the capital known as Bohemia, one of Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma’s main brands; apparently that makes an average Michelada. But, for my glass, Negra Modelo is my choice, even on Especial, whatever the outside temperature. Deep, amber in color, this sweet lager is said to be based on the Vienna Lager, but actually a Munich-style Dunkel – each style sharing similarities in color and taste, but historically brewed with different inputs of malt and hops. Anyway, I’ll have a cold with a side of Mexican street corn and a grilled taco.
This week’s recommendation: Negra Modelo, a Dunkel-style lager with flavors of black malt, caramel and light hops. 5.3% ABV. Mexico City, Mexico.
Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and the Beer Hub in South Utica.