A Quick Review of Popular Mexican Beers + Guide to Drinking Beer in Mexico
So, you’ve made it to Mexico and the first thing you want is a cerveza, bien helada, because, duh. I mean, there’s nothing like a good start-of-holiday beer (I should know, I only started drinking beer in Mexico. I was a late bloomer.) However, and I speak from experience as a former non-beer drinker, the Mexican beer brands list you’ll be presented with can be overwhelming. Especially if you get a weary waiter who insists on listing off their Mexican beer brand selection at breakneck speed, which inevitably leads you to order the last one you heard, whether you wanted to or not. With that in mind, this is my brief, informative and, of course, humorous guide to all the best Mexican beers and how to order anything from a Mexican beer list without sounding like a right idiot, which is ideal for the beer drinking traveller who wants to pretend they know what they’re talking about in a bar (like me).
DRINKING BEER IN MEXICO
Every old white man who thinks he’s being groundbreakingly hilarious knows how to order two beers in Spanish. (All together now – dos cervezas, por favor. Cerveza is ‘Mexican’ for beer.) However, when it comes to ordering beer in Mexico though, things can easily get so much more complex, either because of ridiculous slang or baffling sizing decisions. Take, for example, pints. Sure, the word pinta exists, but it is a SHAM of a pint that doesn’t come close (size-wise, anyway) to a good old British pint down the local. So don’t go ordering pints in Mexico, because you won’t be pleased with the results. And don’t, for the love of god, ask for beer with lime. Some bartenders will offer you it, but you will be judged for taking it (by me). Unless you’re drinking beer in Mexico at the beach. Or drinking Corona. There are exceptions to every rule, OK?!
Essential Mexican Beer Ordering Vocabulary
Botella – Bottle
Lata – Can
De barril – From the tap (if you order litros de barril, you’ll be confronted with a shit ton of beer in an almost impossibly large glass, just fyi.)
Ballena – 946ml bottle. Pacífico beer, Corona Familiar and Carta Blanca beer are most commonly found in ballena sized bottles.
Caguama (or, ballenón)– 1.2 litre bottle, which, when buying from a corner shop, you either have to swap for an empty, or pay a few pesos of tax on. It’s surprising how easy 1.2 litres of beer start to go down after you’ve lived in Mexico for a while.
Chela/ Cheve – Slang for beer. I feel like these might be more Guadalajara-isms above all else though, because sometimes people stare at me blankly when I ask for chelas. Either that, or they immediately ask if I lived in Guadalajara.
Chelada – If you order your beer as a chelada, you’ll get it served in a chilled glass with ice and lime juice in the bottom and a salted rim.
Michelada – Where do I even begin? I’ll explain micheladas (basically a Mexican Bloody Mary with beer) in more detail at the end of this post.
When it comes to Tecate beer, you have options. There’s the shit one, the shitter one and the slightly less shit one. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Except I’m actually kind of not. Tecate is the beer you choose, resentfully, after you’ve exhausted all other options. Like, the waiter has been stood at your table for close to ten minutes already, as you ran through the list of Mexican beers they carry and you’re still there umming and ahhing, trying not to order a fucking Tecate.
However, let me reel in this tangent. I mentioned at the beginning that there are essentially three types of Tecate. In order of not-horribleness, worst to best, here they are: Tecate Light, Tecate, Tecate Titanium. Friends in the north, in defense of their Tecate traditions, like to claim that Tecate Titanium in the rest of Mexico is what normal Tecate tastes like in the north. Something to do with the water. Yeah…I don’t think so. (Although, even my northern dwelling boyfriend has actually started claiming he can taste the difference, which makes me kind of want to reassess our whole relationship, if I’m totally honest.)
However, there are two situations in which I’d rather drink Tecate – if the other options are Carta Blanca or Bud Light.
But, but…Bud Light isn’t a Mexican beer, I hear you protesting. (Futilely, because you’re behind a computer screen, thousands of miles away from me, might I add.) You’re correct though, outraged reader, you’re correct. Bud Light is not a Mexican beer, but it might as fucking well be in the Mexican branch of Gringolandia, a.k.a. Monterrey, Nuevo León. Honestly, drinking Bud Light (which tastes like a watered-down version of Tecate, and that’s saying something) is practically an Olympic sport for the regios. And it’s so gross. DOWN WITH BUD LIGHT!
Corona + Corona Light
What kind of beer is Corona? Well, Corona Light is the generic beach beer, to be drunk incredibly cold and incredibly fast, preferably with your toes wiggling in the sand (perhaps on one of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta). Corona is also actually one of the only beers you can get away with chucking a bit of lime juice into (given that it’s the quintessential Mexican light beer) but I, and likely many others, will probably still judge you a bit for it. Sorry. I practically lived off Corona in my final year of university (well, the Lidl knock-off beer similar to Corona anyway), in an attempt to relive my year abroad. It was only marginally successful.
Corona is also unique in that it comes in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the teeny weeny 250ml Coronita bottles, to the 940ml Corona Familiar servings (also known as ballenas). The best way to drink Corona is from the regular sized glass bottle or the tall and skinny can though.
Fun fact: it’s one of the five top-selling beers in the world and, in my opinion, one of the decent, cheap Mexican beer names too.
I’m drinking Indio beer right now actually, although, honestly, the best thing about it is the label – each one features a different design, based on a specific barrio in Mexico. They also used to have labels designed by Mexican artist Sofia Castellanos, although those were limited edition. Indio is like the beer you choose when you’ve exhausted all your other favourites and you’re rapidly running out of decent options in a bar. Or you want to buy a twelve pack from Oxxo for a house party. In short, Indio’s are never anyone’s first choice, but nor are they bringing up the rear.
When I first moved to Mexico, a friend told me that Victoria is the wife of beers and Corona is the mistress. I’m still not sure I fully understand what this means, except that Victoria is that beer that everyone goes back to eventually. Which makes sense, because it’s obviously the best one. Bold claim, but I DON’T CARE. Everyone knows that Victoria beer is the best Mexican beer and those that claim otherwise are either lying to themselves or trying to give off an I am so beyond the mainstream vibe. I remember actually hunting this down in a New York bodega, because I’d left Mexico all of two days prior and was so sad I wouldn’t be able to drink Victoria for a full year. Sidenote: I also think Victoria is the best beer for micheladas.
Get the fuck out if you think Sol is a good Mexican beer (although, it is the oldest of the Mexican beer brands). Sure, it’s sold in Mexico but I’ve never seen a single self-respecting Mexican drink one. In fact, as far as I can recall, the only person I’ve ever seen drink Sol beer in Mexico is my good friend BWein, who knocked one back while sat in the boot as we travelled to Morelia for Day of the Dead. That was a trip of some monumentally poor decisions and I think his choice to sip on a Sol en route there was only the ominous foreshadowing of that. Did I mention he went for the Sol Limón y Sal option? Literally, I have no idea what he was thinking.
Leon is a good beer, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the best beer in Mexico and I always forget it exists. Meh.
Pacífico tastes like Puerto Vallarta, like getting third degree sunburns and sand all up in your vagina as you sit on the beach wishing you could just be sat in a bar instead. I’m not really selling it, but genuinely, Pacífico is one of the top Mexican beers to drink at the beach in Mexico. Unless you’re skint in the corner shop, in which case you want to get some super, super cold cans of Corona and drink them before they have the chance to get lukewarm or you’ll hate yourself and every decision that led you to this point. To get back on topic, Pacífico is great. And it goes great with seafood.
What? Is this even a Mexican beer? Montejo beer is the black sheep of the Mexican beer stalwarts, little known and little drunk, especially amongst outsiders, and is only really popular in the Yucatan Peninsula. I’ve tried this beer from Mexico maybe twice in two years of living here.
The discerning drinker’s commercial Mexican beer of choice, ordering a Bohemia says three things about you – you think you’re a bit fancy, you really like Mexican dark beer and you also don’t flinch at the thought of spending more than 30 pesos on a drink. I am absolutely not fancy and I resent paying more than 25 pesos for a beer, if I’m honest. Naturally, I don’t drink much Bohemia. Bohemia Oscura is fucking delicious though and their much lauded, seasonally available Noche Buena beer is apparently cracking but I’ve still not got round to trying it.
Negra Modelo + Modelo Especial
Negra Modelo beer isn’t bad, but I literally only ever drink Modelo Especial beer (the one with the gold coloured packaging) when I go to Bacinica for a spot of overly ambitious, early afternoon drinking. Fun fact: Modelo is apparently the most popular beer in Mexico.
The Mexican beer Dos Equis is a reliable favourite that’s nothing to write home about, but is available in most places. This would be the one to go for if Victoria is unavailable, closely followed by Indio. For the record, the orange-bottled Dos Equis Ambar is way better than regular old green-bottled Dos Equis. It’s also one of the most popular beers of Mexico in the US.
I have a soft spot for Minerva beer, even though I rarely drink it, simply because it’s one of Mexico’s top ‘craft’ brands and it hails from Guadalajara. It was also the beer my boyfriend bought to accompany my homemade mole the second time I went up to Monterrey to visit him. Overall, this is the beer to order if you want to look like you know about Mexican beer, but don’t want the awkwardness of ordering something so fucking obscure (like a Baja California raspberry brew) that they don’t have it.
Wikipedia’s Mexican beer page tells me this brand exists, but I can’t say I’ve ever tried it. In fact, I can only vaguely conjure up an image of Estrella beer in my mind, which makes sense given that it’s mainly sold in and around Guadalajara, but I can’t comment on whether it’s any good. Probably not? I don’t know.
Superior? Seriously, I’ve never fucking heard of this beer.
I can’t say I’m uber knowledgeable about craft beer in Mexico, but I figure if you’ve stuck around ‘til the end of the post, you’re either a family member, or pretty into beer. So, these are some of the most noteworthy Mexican craft ales that you should know about.
However, aside from the Mexican craft ales and commercial beers, there is another way to enjoy drinking beer in Mexico. In the form of a refreshing Mexican beer cocktail. Yeah, this might sound horrendous to anyone who isn’t big into Mexican cuisine or has ever visited Mexico, but beer cocktails exist, and they’re…nice? They certainly grow on you, let’s put it that way, because I thought they were fucking gross when I first heard about them, but I’ve since learnt to treasure a well-prepared michelada, especially on a balmy day. Or when I’m so hungover I want to die. Hair of the dog and all that, right?
Anyway, micheladas are essentially dark Mexican beer with tomato juice, which incorporate a bizarre concoction of lime juice, salt, chili, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce (amusingly called salsa inglesa in Mexico), and clamato (clam juice). Obviously, everywhere has their own variations on the above ingredients, so you’re unlikely to ever get two micheladas that taste the same but for the record, I like micheladas that are more clamato beer than tomato beer. Here’s a pretty decent michelada beer recipe.
Fancy ass micheladas sometimes come served with cucumber, prawns, nuts, or pineapple on top of them, and there is even a monstrosity of a variation on micheladas, known as gomichelas, which mixes up the good old beer and tomato juice formula slightly. These add a glug of liquid chamoy (a.k.a. devil juice) into the mix, and swap out the added extra topping for gummy sweets. Gross, right?
Finally, chelada beers are those with a salted rim, plus ice and lime juice. Simple and really the only acceptable way to drink beer with salt and lime.
Do you agree with my assessment of each commercial Mexican beer? What is the best Mexican beer in your opinion? Are there any craft ales I should add to my list? Let me know in the comments!