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In time for Cinco de Mayo--and hopefully some warmer temperatures around the Puget Sound--let's talk Mexican beer.
I know a beer master that once said, "I don't drink any beer lighter in color than my first piss of the morning." He has a point---most light-colored beers are thin and mild. They are one-dimensional and lack the flavor and depth most beer drinkers look for in a beer. That being said, Mexican beers--usually lagers--can be incredibly refreshing when served cold on a hot day, or when paired with spicy Mexican food.
Are there more than five Mexican beers? Just barely. There's not a lot of variety in Mexican beers because two companies--Grupo Modelo and FEMSA--control 90% of the market. They also control nearly 100% of the exports, which means that if there are great little micro-brews in Mexico, you can only drink them there. For the purposes of coming up with a Top 5 list, my panel tasted 10 different beers widely available around Seattle. Only half of them made the cut...
5) Dos Equis Lager Especial This light, straw-colored lager has a bit of apple cider aroma, that continues through to the palate. It was very light, with hardly any after taste. It was a bit watery, but still very drinkable. In the recent ad campaign for Dos Equis, The Most Interesting Man in the World says, "Stay thirsty my friends." In the case of this beer, I recommend doing just that--there are beers more worthy of quenching your thirst. But still, this commercial is worthwhile:
4) Modelo Especial This beer has a distinct skunkiness on the nose typically associated with pilsners...or weed. Like many of its cousins, this Mexican beer is light in color and provides little, if any head. Modelo Especial does have a bit more carbonation than some of its counterparts, but the skunky aroma turned off some tasters. The foil-wrapped bottleneck is a classy touch however.
3) Corona There's a reason Corona is the top-selling imported beer in the U.S. It has a pleasant malty flavor, mild aftertaste, and a refreshing, almost lime-like crispness. Speaking of limes, the practice of putting a wedge of lime in the neck of a Corona is not for flavor, but rather to keep flies out of the beer. This makes sense in a tropical climate like Mexico, but since many North Americans vacation in Mexico, the practice returned with them, and is now how Corona--and other Mexican beers are typically served. Lime or no lime, Corona aims to please and was universally enjoyed by the entire tasting panel.
There is a pervasive urban legend that Corona beer contains Mexican piss. The rumor dates back to the mid-1980s when Corona was quickly growing in popularity, and became the 2nd most popular import in the U.S. The rumor was traced to a Heineken distributor in Nevada. Heineken was the #1 import at the time. Charges were filed by the U.S. distributor of Corona, but later dropped when the defendant agreed to say publicly that Corona was not contaminated. The rumor persists today, partly because the color of Corona is not unlike the color of urine. It doesn't help that some people claim it "tastes like warm piss." But if they are claiming that, I think we should be more worried that they know what warm piss tastes like.
2) Negra Modelo This was the only dark beer that made our top five. Others were too sweet or lacked depth. Negra Modelo has a nice maltiness, with hints of caramel and nuts, and a clean finish. It pours with a nice head, though very little lacing appears on the glass. It stands apart from other beers from Mexico. As one taster remarked, it is "less beach volleyball" than most Mexican beers. It offers more depth and color, while still being crisp and refreshing.
1) Pacifico Even with a dark beer taking the #2 spot, top honors are still reserved for the style of beer most associated with, and expected, from Mexico. Pacifico is light in color, but delivers more aroma and body than some of the other pilsner-style beers we tasted. There was a mild, appealing nuttiness that added more character and depth to this beer and made it interesting even as it got less cold. This beer would pair well with many Mexican foods, but also stands alone as a highly drinkable beer, with more "beerness" than other similar beers from Mexico.