What comes to mind when you think about Mexico and cervasa? For most people it’s Corona with a fresh lime. During my recent trip to Mexico I decided I would try as many beers as I could find other than Corona, only because I’d already tried it numerous times and I was hopeful there would be other more interesting beers to sample. While I was surprised to find that there are a number of different brands that I’d never heard of, the vast majority of them were Pilsner style beers. Pacifico was the most common in Puerto Vallarta where I stayed for part of the trip. Tecate, Sol, Superior, Bohemia and Dos Equis were also fairly common. There were also a number of Vienna style dark lagers such as Negra Modelo, Dos Equis Ambar, Leon Negra and Indio.
I was curious as to why Mexico’s dominate beer was Pilsner and to a lesser extent Vienna Style Lager. So I did a little digging into the history of beer in Mexico. Prior to the Spanish Conquest the native people did have fermented alcohol beverages but they were mostly corn and agave based drinks. One was called pulque which was the fermented sap of the agave plant. But the beverage that was closer to beer was made from fermented corn and was amber coloured. It wasn’t until the Spaniards arrived that barley was introduced in brewing. But beer was still very limited during the colonial period because there were so many taxes and restrictions on the use of materials. Following Mexican independence those restrictions were lifted. With the establishment of the short lived “Second Mexican Empire” headed by emperor Maximilian I who was of the House Habsburg, an Austro-Germanic ruling family, brewing expanded dramatically.
As a result of this new empire in the latter half of the 19th century a number of Germans immigrated to Mexico and brought with them their brewing traditions. The emperor also favored Vienna style dark beers, which explains why there are so many to found in Mexico today. Since that time the majority of breweries established have been consolidated into 2 large companies that control nearly 90% of the market in Mexico; Grupo Modelo which makes Corona and FEMSA which produces Tecate and Dos Equis. I was very surprised to learn that Mexico displaced Holland in 2003 as the world wide leader in beer sales by volume. Corona is one of the most successful brands in the world.
My experience of drinking Mexican beers was very pleasurable. Many of the places I ordered a cervesa it was served with a lime, and it has been debated whether or not this is just for the tourists. My experience in Guadalajara may lend credence to the fact that Mexicans too enjoy lime with beer. While there I ordered a Michelada, a traditional Mexican beer cocktail that is made with a pilsner style beer served in a glass with ice, lime juice and salt on the rim. It can sometimes also be served with chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce or tomato juice. The version I had was just lime juice and salt but it was very refreshing and went down easily.
Beer in Mexico generally is all about having a good cold refreshing beer on a hot day. While there are a few microbreweries there with a little more interesting variety, the beers they produce are nearly impossible to find. If I get a chance to go back to Guadalajara I want to find a beer made by a brewery there called Cerveceria Minerva, which they call Imperial Tequila Ale or ITA.
If they have managed to add Tequila to a beer that might be something worth finding! Whether it be tequila or cervesa as the Mexicans say – Salud!