Mexicans have been brewing beer for centuries and doing so very successfully. Today, Mexico produces some of the world’s best and most loved beers. Some of their most noticed brands are seen in every liquor store across the U.S., Europe, and, of course, here in Australia.
The history of brewing beer in Mexico is a rich one, from the Mesoamerican period to the Spanish imposed taxes, to the rise of Mexican brewing post War of Independence and right up until now. Let’s dive a little deeper into this history.
Ancient societies had been fermenting corn grains and plants to make alcoholic drinks in Mexico, well and truly before the Europeans arrived. The Spanish were the first to bring wheat-based and barely beers to Mexico. They also issued the first official allowances to brew beers of European style in the mid 16th century. Unfortunately, expansion was difficult for Mexicans trying to grow crops and brew more bear to heavy regulations and high taxes imposed by the Spanish on locally brewed beer and wine but a leash around the industries growth. (1)
Then came Mexico’s War of Independence, and with this, those European regulations and taxes were gone, and the production of beer and other alcoholic beverages expanded and flourished. By the end of the 19th century, there was a rush of sorts of immigrants from Europe, especially Germany, who brought with them their own expertise and knowledge of brewing, which pushed the local market to change and grow. In the next forty years or so, beer became a huge business in Mexico and was helped in part also by the prohibition in the U.S. (2)
The landscape of brewing in Mexico today is largely shaped by this consolidation that happened during the 1920s. Over time the bigger breweries took over some of the smaller ones, and the ‘big-two’ companies became as big as they are today.
Most of the beers in Mexico are pilsners, lagers, Vienna-style light and dark beers, and also Munich dark beers. Local breweries do produce a small range of ales, but beers produced by major breweries in Mexico are available all around the world. 90% of these beers are produced by one of the ‘big-two’ brewers; Cerveceria Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma and Cerveceria Modelo. (1)
Most of the beers in this guide are made by one of these two breweries.
The small and independently owned micro-breweries that are very popular here and in many places are not as common-place in Mexico. Nor are they as popular or as sought after as they are across Europe, the U.S., and here in Australia. In these places, small-scale, regional micro-breweries have carved out their own very rewarding niches.
In Mexico, there are a few that do trade quite well across the country, such as Cerveceria Santa Fe Beer Factory and Cerveceria San Angel just outside of Mexico City. These small brewers mainly produce ales over lagers or pilsners, which are more usual from the ‘big-two.’
Many local bistros and bars in Mexico are also starting to stock local, artisan brands to help these brewers get more attention and recognition for their ales.
There’s a large chance you’ve had a Corona beer with a lime wedge on a summer afternoon at least once. It’s a summertime staple for many people, but it’s not the only Mexican beer out there. Let’s have a look through not only the most popular beers out there but the best beers to pair with your favourite Mexican dishes.
The first five drinks listed here can be found on Don Taco’s menu to pair with any dish for your lunchtime or evening meal!
A very popular beer, Corona extra is actually a light beer also described as a lager pilsner, and is the best-selling Mexican beer sold overseas and is currently being exported to over a hundred countries around the world. It’s the highest-selling beer in the U.S. that’s non-domestic and in the U.K. too! Corona is known for its refreshing and smooth taste; it has a well-rounded character and a rather pleasant hop and malt aromas. Over USD$2 billion is brought in each year just through export sales alone for Corona. (1) (2)
Pacifico is a refreshing and light pilsner type beer that was originally brewed in Mazatlan and is known to be the Modelo Group’s top brand in the north-eastern area of Mexico. It was first exported to the U.S. back in 1985, and a ‘light’ version of Pacifico was actually launched in 2008.
This beer was actually first brewed at a brewery in a small town called Tecate, located in Baja, California. In 1955, one of the ‘big two,’ Cerveceria Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma, took over the regional brewer and made this medium lager with a strong , sharp taste available around the country. (3)
Tecate was actually the very first beer to be sold in a can in Mexico and took home gold medals in Paris, Geneva, and Madrid for its crisp and refreshing taste. It’s promoted at a lot of major sporting games and events around the world, and this makes it one of Mexico’s best-recognised beer brands.
Most like to serve Tecate with a squeeze of fresh lime, which is the more traditional way to drink it. Alternatively, some like adding a sprinkle of salt on the top of a nice cold can and enjoy the unique salty hit.
Modelo especial or Modelo Special, was first brewed in 1925 and was actually the very first brand made by Modelo. Today, it still remains a huge favourite with Mexican beer lovers, coming in as their second most bought beer.
Modelo especial is described by the brewer as a pilsner lager and has a definite fuller, and richer taste than a beer like Corona is known for. A ‘light’ version started production in 1994.
This beer is kindly referred to as ‘the cream of beers’ in Mexico and is a much darker beer than those already mentioned. It’s quite smooth and can be described as a ‘Munich-dunkel (dark)’ kind of beer by the brewer. Modelo negro was one of the brewer’s original beers, and when it was first launched, it was only sold on draft. In Mexico these days, not a lot of beer is actually sold on draft, and Modelo Negro is now available around Mexico in a bottle.
Sol is a very tasty light-lager beer. It was initially made with the working class in mind, but recent marketing successes and studies have shown that younger people have been identifying with and enjoying Sol. After a long period of time not producing the beer, the brewer Cerveceria Cuahtemoc, re-launched the drink in 1993. (1)
Today Sol is also exported to places in Europe and Asia as well as the U.S., Australia, and all-around South America too.
Victoria is outlined as what is called a Pilsner-Vienna type beer which certainly enhances this beer as a fine, rich blend of both a light pilsner and a dark beer. It’s been produced since 1865, plus in 1935 the original brand was taken under the Modelo group’s wing. The beer is known for its unique amber colour and its wonderful taste.
These beers were initially brewed in Merida, Yucatan. Montejo has been produced for about 60 years, whereas Leon has been around for over a hundred. It’s described as a full-bodied, dark amber, Munich beer. Montejo is a pilsner known for its lighter aroma and taste.
Both of these beers were only available in the Yucatan area of Mexico, but since Modelo overtook the original brewer in the 1970’s they’ve made their way around to most Mexican regions.
Barrilito literally translates to ‘little barrel’ or ‘keg’ in Spanish and is a light beer. Its taste is refreshing, paired with its light and airy aroma, place this beer in the category of a pilsner.
This beer is probably Modelo especial’s biggest competitor and is a rich yet light beer. It’s one of Cerveceria Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma’s oldest brands of beer and Mexico’s too! It’s internationally recognized as one of the finest beers in the world.
Bohemia boasts a definite hops flavour and, besides its clarity, is still dense. The brewer has also started making a dark version, ‘Bohemia Obscurer.’ In 2009 ‘Bohemia Weizen’ was also launched and made using Mount Hood hops, wheat, orange peel, coriander and has made itself one of a kind in Mexico as it was the first wheat-based beer to be made there by a big brewery. (4)
Beer in Mexico has such a rich and colourful history. Like many countries, the ancient civilizations that came before the Europeans left their mark were already experimenting and creating their own alcoholic beverages. Over time, Mexico has clearly come to produce some of the world’s finest, tastiest, and most well-known beers around the world. Producing brands such as Corona, Sol, and Tecate.
Beer can be the perfect companion for both a summer’s afternoon and a winter’s night, for whatever you’ve got planned, Mexico has got a beer for you! Remember to always drink responsibly, and if you’re out and about, make sure you’ve got a ride home so you can enjoy your favourite beer safely.