(Editor’s Note: Here is the conclusion of The History of Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Beer. You can read Part I here.)
With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Aztec relocated to San Diego. Strousse briefly left to work for the rival San Diego Brewing Company before founding Tecate in Mexico in 1943, then returning to Aztec before his death a year later.
Aztec’s popularity declined following a buyout by Detroit’s Altes Brewing Company in 1948, and later takeover by the National Brewing Company of Baltimore, which folded it in 1953.
Aztec would revive in 2008 when t-shirt designer John Webster discovered the old artwork while researching historic California brands, and recognized its commercial potential. Aztec’s former rival, Mexicali, continued to brew until closure in 1973, but its pilsner recipe was obtained by Cerveceria Mexicana, which still produces it today.
In 1973, Cuauhtémoc head, Eugenio Garza Sada, son of brewery founder Isaac Garza Garza, was assassinated in a botched kidnapping attempt by left-wing guerrillas, causing the corporation to break into separate holdings for banking and beer production. A financial crisis caused by the fall of Mexican oil prices, the nation’s inability to borrow money, and billions of dollars of debt forced another wave of consolidation.
Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma.
In 1985, Cuauhtémoc merged with Moctezuma in 1985 to form Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, which folded in several other established brands, including: Bohemia, Dos Equis, and Tecate in addition to the Carte Blanca, Sol, and Moctezuma beers. This latest series left only corporate giants: Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma and Grupo Modelo.
Beer Consolidation in Mexico
While Mexican breweries were merging and buying out smaller brands, the global beer market was going through a similar consolidation that would eventually subsume Mexico. In 1994, Labatt bought a 22 percent share of Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma and in 2010 Heineken acquired the Mexican asset after purchasing Labatt. In 2008, Anheuser-Busch obtained 49 percent of Grupo Modelo’s shares.
In the eyes of early 1980s American consumers, Mexican beers were viewed as low-brow workingman’s beverages; however, clever marketing campaigns would soon change the image of cerveza as instant beach escape beers.
Musicians Getting Into the Mix
In 1984, agent Howard Kaufman, representing both The Eagles and Jimmy Buffett, was negotiating with Corona for sponsorship of an upcoming Eagles tour. When Buffett learned of it, he requested sponsorship as well, and a lucrative partnership that was to last 23 years was born.
Co-opting Buffett’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” album title, Corona trademarked the “Change your whole latitude” slogan in 1992, immediately changing the beer’s association with beach vacations and a laid-back lifestyle.
By 1998, Corona displaced Heineken as the top imported beer in the United States; a year later, it was the 10th best-selling brand in America. By 2006, Buffett decided to produce his own light lager, he offered a deal to Corona to contract brew it, but Grupo Modelo declined since Corona’s popularity was continuing to soar. At length, Buffett signed with Anheuser-Busch, which had longed for a beer to compete with Corona; in 2007, Landshark Lager hit the market.
Not to be outdone, rival Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma went in a different direction with its ad campaign for Dos Equis, eschewing beaches and frollicking young people for the older, sophisticated “Most Interesting Man in the World,” played by Jonathan Goldsmith, whose worldly adventurer’s exaggerated exploits charmed viewers for eight years. By the time the campaign ended in 2016, export sales of Dos Equis rose by 34.8 percent.
The Most Interesting Man in the World.
While Mexico’s commercial beers are pilsner styles, a budding craft beer movement began around 2010, inspired by the American craft beer movement. These brewers typically produce about 0.85 barrels per batch but offer a variety of styles not otherwise available.
Notable brews include a pale ale by Cerveceria Minera in Guadalajara, Chupacabras pale ale (a cross between and American pale ale and barley wine) by Cerveceria de Baja California in Mexicali, and a traditional weissbier by Cerveceria BayernBrau in Puebla. Since 2009, the American BJCP has certified an annual professional competition called the Copa Cerveza Mexico.
From the time of Spanish colonization in the 16th century, to the arrival of German and Austrian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the native-born craft brewers, the story of Mexican beer has paralleled political upheaval from taxation, foreign occupation, revolutions, and American Prohibition.
Despite economic turmoil that changed the brewery landscape through mergers, buyouts, and closures, these European-inspired pilsners and lagers have remained very popular outside Mexico’s borders with increasing market share. At the same time, craft brewers are introducing new styles to the Mexican public. All good reasons to stay thirsty.
One of the most iconic beer pictures is that of a longneck bottle of cerveza with a lime inserted in the neck. Even when served in a glass, it just seems incomplete without the wedge nestled on the rim or floating on the amber liquid. The origin of this custom remains a mystery.
Several theories abound, including: a means of sanitizing the bottle neck, keeping flies out of the bottle, or masking the flavor of skunky beer (as Corona uses clear bottles). What is generally accepted is that this was a marketing ploy that started in tourist areas and spread globally with Mexican exports. In Asian counties, like Japan, limes are rare, so a slice of lemon is substituted.
Interestingly, Mexicans typically do not drink cerveza with lime. If not drinking it plain, the preferred method is making the beer cocktail known as the Michelada, a mixture of beer with a combination of lemon or lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, pepper sauce, salsa picante, or soy sauce.
The name, Michelada, is derived from Mexican slang meaning “my cold beer.” Travelers take note: by ordering a Michelada, one will merely receive a salt-rimmed glass and a wedge of lime with a bottle of beer. To get the complete package with spicy sauces, one must order a Michelada Preparada.
Cultural Differences with Beer
Mexican beer culture differs from America’s. Cerveza is enjoyed as a social drink at gatherings of family or friends, at sporting events, and in bars. It is not, at present, customarily drunk with meals or paired with food. With these limitations, the average Mexican drinks about 52 liters of beer per year, which pales in comparison with many European countries, where levels in excess of 100 liters per person are common.
Yet as American craft beer influences have made inroads in Mexico since the 2010s, it is possible that Mexico’s variety of regional cuisines may eventually have locally produced beers to complement them.
Building a fermentation chamber last year enabled me to finally make a lager and expand my brewing horizons. In developing my first recipe for this project, I went with a dark, Vienna lager-style, similar to Negra Modelo. The beer is light and balanced, with a slight caramel flavor playing off muted Galena hops. Two other inspirations for my recipe included the Paloma cocktail (grapefruit soda and tequila), and a Modela-rita I enjoyed at a local Mexican restaurant.
Movie poster and label for The Three Amigos.
Thus, for the beer’s name – a blatant rip-off of the 1986 movie of a similar title – Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase), and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) are replaced by lager, grapefruit and tequila.
I was recently honored by the Missing Links Brewery near Butler, PA, to have this recipe selected to brew a limited edition two-barrel batch to raise money for the charity of my choice: the Butler County (PA) Humane Society. It was brewed in mid-April and will be on tap in late June. Salud!
5 lb Pale malt
5 lb Vienna malt
9 oz Crystal 60
2 oz Black (Patent) malt
.43 oz Galena hops @ 45
¼ tsp Irish moss @ 10
German lager yeast (WLP830)
Water profile: Munich
Adjuncts: 1 oz grapefruit peel, silver tequila (I used Margaritaville brand)
Mash at 148 for 90 minutes. Ferment at recommended yeast temperatures. Meanwhile, soak the grapefruit peel in tequila for at least a week. After the diacetyl rest, rack into secondary over the drained grapefruit peel (reserve the used tequila for grapefruit margaritas). Gradually cool to lagering temperatures and hold for a week before kegging. Force carb or, alternatively, add 4.46 oz to the keg for natural carbonation and condition for 30 days.
OG: 1.049, FG: 1.010, ABV: 5.1%
IBU: 19.1, SRM: 12.6