Story by Matt Young. Photo by Kim F.
Cary, NC – With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner (Saturday, May 5), one’s thoughts turn to the beers of Mexico. But let me start with a confession: I love Corona.
Beer snobs say that liking Corona is uncool. I like its color, and its “skunkiness”. And let’s face it: their commercials make you think you need one when you are on the beach. And you do.
But keep your lime. If I want to eat fruit I’ll drink tequila.
Before Corona, Before Mexico
Mexico has more to offer though. Long before there was a “Mexico”, the natives of that part of the world were fermenting “beer” from various plants – mostly corn – it is said. Finally I can put my bachelor’s degree in Anthropology – from 30 years ago – to good use.
There are multiple theories as to how what we now call “beer” got there but there’s one that makes good sense to me.
The Spaniards brought barley from Europe, but I doubt they were making much beer due to taxes and restrictions and most importantly – lack of barley. One thing that is known is that barley-based beer breweries (say that 10 times fast) started popping up in the early 1900’s, at the same time as German immigration to the region.
Coincidence? I think not.
Let’s explore Mexico through cerveza. I chose a few you might want to try at your Cinco de Mayo party and act all “beer sommelier”.
Tasting notes: This is a low alcohol beer, an American-style lager (just a bit more ABV than Bud), and good for sittin’ on the patio en el sol. This one won’t scare a Corona drinker. It’s yellow, pale and thirst-quenching. It’s good for the price and of course goes great with food laced with jalapeños. Just a touch of hops and not malty like a pale ale. Well carbonated.
The Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma Brewery also makes Dos Equis and Tecate and has been around for 100 years. In recent history it became a subsidiary of Heineken International.
Tasting notes: Technically the name is Cerveza Pacífico Clara. This is a pilsner. German style, no less. When in Mexico, it’s reportedly what the locals really drink.
This is a “hot country pilsner”. OK, I made that term up. But it’s what you would expect. You drink it when you are thirsty, not sitting by a roaring fire with your golden retriever at your slippered feet. Or you drink it with spicy food. It is straw-colored and light. Low hop content. Low alcohol.
“So,” you may ask, “why a German style?” The answer is: this brewery was started by some Germans in the early 1900’s.
Tasting notes: So here’s where you are showing off a bit at your CdM party. Negra Modelo is referred to by the brewery (now owned by the Anheuser-Busch parent company) as “The cream of beer”. Negra Modelo is a Munich Dunkel Lager. The term simply means “dark lager”. It is also brewed with a slightly different process than the average lager, and while I find it fascinating, I’ll skip that part lest you siesta on me.
It has a subtle caramel character and is a light chocolate-orange in color for a negra. It’s a good starter “brown beer” for the beer novice. Very little hop character, sweet-malty and a tan head. It has slightly more alcohol content than the other two beers I reviewed. Beer tasters would call it “drinkable”, meaning “it goes down easy”.
In a restaurant and ordering steak fajitas or something made with chorizo? This is a good beer to pair with heartier Mexican fare. While German in origin, this is truly a Mexican beer and is wildly popular there.
On a side note, if you want to try a traditional Munich Dunkel, try a Spaten. From the Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (founded in 1397) brewery, it will give you an idea of the original intent, if you will, of a Dunkel: toasty, malty, caramel-y.
If you are celebrating Cinco de Mayo (The Battle of Puebla) this year, why not see if you can get out of your comfort zone and explore the beers that are really consumed in Mexico?
“We’re Mexican, not Mexican’t!” – George Lopez