Despite getting little respect, the Mexican beer industry is a giant by worldwide
standards. With the largest production of any country by volume, beer is a major
component of the Mexican economy. This hasn’t always been so. The history of Mexican
brewing has been buffeted by economic and cultural changes.
The native peoples of Mexico brewed several distinct alcoholic beverages which will
be reviewed separately, but none use cereal grains aside from corn. As such, it
can be said that the first true beers were introduced by European colonists. The
production was slow and sporadic at first. With limited ingredients and prohibitive
taxes and restrictions imposed by the Spanish government kept the industry in infancy
until late in the 19th century. A wave of German immigration brought with it storied
brewing tradition and by the second decade of the 20th century there were 36 breweries
in Mexico. US prohibition also brought a boon to the economy.
Unfortunatly, this was not enough to stave of a wave of consolidation. Some might
even speculate that the consolidation in the US industry may have been inevitable
even though prohibition currently takes the blam. Today the industry is dominated
by two large producers, Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma and Grupo Modelo (which is
50% owned by Anheuser Busch). Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma's brands today include
Tecate, Sol, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Superior, Indio, Bohemia and Noche Buena.
Grupo Modelo's brands include Corona, Corona Light, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial
Victoria, Estrella, Léon and Montejoand Pacifico. Most of these beers are classified
as American-adjuct pilsners and many are made primarily for export with very little
domestic consumption. My reviews will only cover the beer I have found available,
and popular in Mexico. Brands such as Sol, Dos Equis and Corona are produced almost
exclusively for US consumption and will not be covered.
American Adjunct Lagers
The three most visible and popular brands in Mexico fall into this category. They
are light, are acidic to the tongue with little bitterness, almost no hops, and pour
with a thin quickly dissipating head. As the name implies they are brewed using
‘adjunct’ grains such as rice and corn. With generally mild flavor and light body
they are ideal for consumption in hot and humid weather and are usually accompanied
by a lime. In Mexico these beers are found almost exclusively in either cans or 940ml
dark glass bottles referred to as "ballenas" (whales). Nobody consumes these beers
out of a 12oz bottles sold in the US and none of these brands use clear glass on
their bottles (which leaves the beer vulnerable to damage from UV rays). This something
associated exclusively with the branding which has made Corona, which is rarely consumed
by local Mexicans, the fifth most popular beer in the world.
Tecate one of the most well known brands in Mexico and you can’t go more than fifty
yards in any city without seeing the iconic advertisements bearing the German Eagle
emblem. This beer has long had a special place in my heart as it was the cheapest
non-domestic beer available at Stubb’s in Austin. Naturally I gravitated to it and
now any time I throw a lime in one of these distinct cans I’m magically transported
back to those nights of live music and revelry.
Now with a month of regular Tecate consumption my mood has gradually changed. Given
that I cannot compliment it with the requisite slice of lime and am not always consuming
them ice cold I have begun to turn a more objective eye to Tecate. It has a more
lively carbonation than Modelo or Pacifico and more character. The crisp and refreshing
flavor with a bit of corn and a hint of apple stands alone better than Modelo without
the citrus compliment. Unfortunately, the moment the temperature of the beer begins
to rise above sub zero it is worthy of the sink.
This is the most popular beer in Mexico though before the trip I had never tried
it. In most respects it is very similar to Tecate. If poured, which I haven’t done
more than the once to test it out, it produces a more frothy head and complex aroma.
The flavor has similar hints of corn but with a mild buttery bread flavor included.
It is ideally served cold but stand s up better if you are cycling and can’t consume
your whole "sies" within thirty minutes of purchase. It is still refreshing brew
for sipping in the hot desert but I’ll still take a Tecate when given the choice.
This is Grupo Modelo’s best selling beer in Northwest Mexico and the advertising
on the Baja Peninsula is almost as ubiquitous as Tecate’s. I however, find that this
beer has a distinctly different feel than the other two. Originally brewed by three
Germans in Mazatlan the beer is officially advertised as a Mexican pilsner style
beer but really lacks a strong pilsner taste. Rather it is almost a completely blank
slate as far as one is concerned. It is probably the easiest to down of the three
beers and best for relaxed non filling drinking after a long day of riding. It I
ideal to consume out of the large "ballenas" and has gradually migrated up to my
go to beer on most occasions. This is partially due to my lack of satisfaction with
my other two choices and preference to head to the least offensive option.