By John Fortunato
Ever since the 19th century, German immigrants residing in Mexico, and to a lesser extent, Swiss natives, brought then-modern brewing techniques to the northernmost Central American nation. Though Spaniards were the first to brew in Mexico, the lack of grains held back their limited expansion. Back then, local corn and agave were used for brewing and Vienna lagers were the most popular style.
Helped by United States alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933, Mexican border towns benefited from the influx of gringo tourists, especially Tijuana. The modest frontier town just south of San Diego increased in population tenfold during this period.
Though most Mexican beers to this day lack the complexity of most Belgian, German or English competitors, it's the easygoing flavor profile, low hop bittering and simple bready malt base that'll please milder tastebuds.
Until its acquisition by Heineken in 2010, Cerveceria Cuatehmoc-Moctezuma (brewers of popular brands Sol, Bohemia, Tecate and Carta Blanca) shared 90% of Mexico's beer market with Grupo Modelo (Corona, Pacifico, Modelo Especial), which was purchased in 2013 by Anheuser-Busch. However, since 2010, a bunch of independent small-batch microbrewers have turned up and stolen a share of the overall market.
Probably the most complex and flavorful of all major marketed Mexican beer is Negra Modelo, a dark lager with caramel-burnt black malting and festive nut-caked dried fruiting over crisp mineral graining (first brewed by Austrian ex-patriots). Its stiffest stylistic competition comes from Bohemia Obscura, a black-malted Vienna lager with sufficient caramelized coffee nuttiness.
Modelo's perfectly sessionable Estrella Jalisco betters most light lagers with its fresh baked sourdough breading bristling thru salty lemon fizz as pasty rice sweetness contrasts dryly herbed corn musk.
Though its summery popularity is through the roof, Corona Extra Pilsner, a fizzy pale lager that used to have a certain agave twist, now suffers from bland lemon-limed maize neutrality. Peppy Chihuahua Lager maintains a better Tequila/Mezcal agave distinction than Corona but has little else to recommend. A better choice may be barley-riced Sol Pilsner, a mild citric-spiced lightweight.
With its brisk lemondrop-candied sunshine, Dos Equis Special Lager maintains a better sessionable summertime swagger than sudsy Corona or Sol, benefiting from its crispier corn-husked white breading.
Between light and dark Mexican beers lies tawny-coppered Vienna-styled Dos Equis Amber Lager, an adequate barley-honeyed hop roaster with caramel nougat center. Musty corn-husked Tecate Lager, while slightly metallic, has somewhat richer amber graining than most Mexicans. Astringent raw-honeyed wheat straw acridity, moldy dried fruiting and gluey cardboard off-taste sink similarly stylized Modelo Victoria.
A mild barley roast and corn dried scruff emerge for pilsner malted Pacifico and salty crackered Carta Blanca, though the latter has a murky metallic astringency.
Unassuming Bohemia Brand Pilsner needs a more decisive barleycorn thrust and Modelo Especial lacks enough Scotch-licked permeation to overcome its fizzy phenols.
But there's one outstanding seasonal Mexican beer that truly stands out amongst the general mediocrity and passive flavoring of most macro brewed product.
Wintry holiday changeup, Dos Equis Noche Buena Amber Lager, a maroon-bronzed medium body with polite rum-sugared cinnamon and nutmeg spicing, could be Mexico's best, most complex and flavorful macro.
All over the U.S. market, Mexican lagers have found a certain niche among lighter thirsts. No doubt California and Texas will soon be importing some of the better microbrews popping up South of the Border.
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