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Mexican Brews

South-of-the-Border Beers Work with Spicy Foods and Great Cigars
Rick Lyke
Posted: September 1, 1994

(continued from page 1)

Ordering a Corona or Tecate to wash down a taco and refried beans has become an easy choice for many people. Mexican lager, or clara, also is well suited to take the edge off a hot and humid summer day. For most American palates Mexican lagers have the right balance, with a very slight hop bitterness that is dominated by a subtle sweetness from the barley malt.

It's not suprising that this flavor profile is popular with Americans. Major breweries were started in both nations in the late 1800s by families with roots going back to central Europe. The Mexicans even replace some of the barley malt with corn grits and rice--common adjuncts used by American brewers. This tends to soften the flavor of pale pilsners even further.

The New World influence on the pilsner style creates a very accessible, drinkable beer. All ingredients used by Mexican brewers, with the exception of hops imported from the Czech Republic and Washington state, are grown domestically. The ingredients blended and brewed result in delicate beers that, if they're left too long or are stored in direct sun or close to heat, will readily show defects. However, fresh Mexican lagers can refresh like perhaps no other beers in the world.

Corona features a light, floral nose and a mellow, Chardonnay-like color. Tecate picks up a slight, fresh-cut-grass scent with a creamy flavor. Pacifico has a medium-hop nose with a light, sweet, yet refreshing taste. Carta Blanca, the second-best-selling brand in Mexico, has a flowery nose and a dry aftertaste. Bohemia offers up the same fresh-grass scents and a floral taste.

While the claras are the most commonly enjoyed Mexican beers both north and south of the border, both Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma and Modelo make some more colorful beers. (These two large manufacturers of beer in Mexico make Bohemia, Carta Blanca, Dos Equis, Nochebuena, Sol, Superior, Tecate, Chihuahua and Corona, Victoria, Pacifico, Estrella, Negra Modelo, Carta Clara Leon Negra, respectively.) Dos Equis Amber is a smooth beer with more color and flavor than most lagers. It was one of the few surviving Vienna-style lagers in the world before the revival of small breweries caused a resurgence in classic brewing styles. Dos Equis Amber has a firm head with nutty and apricot tones in its complex flavor. We can all be thankful that German émigré Wilhelm Haase brought the recipe with him to Mexico when he established the Moctezuma Brewing Company in 1884. First brewed just prior to 1900, Dos Equis, or Two XXs, is named to mark the turn of the twentieth century.

The third-leading Mexican import, it has been joined in the United States by Dos Equis Special Lager. In Mexico, the clara actually outsells the amber by a considerable margin. Guinness Import Company, which has the U.S. rights to Dos Equis, also introduced the Special Lager on draft in a number of markets during this year. The company has discontinued importing Superior, another popular lager in Mexico, to concentrate on Dos Equis. Some isolated stores still have some old Superior on the shelf. Unlike wine, this style of beer does not age well in the bottle. Old beer should be avoided.

Another full-bodied Mexican beer is Negra Modelo, a Münchener-style beer that gives off a radiant, mahogany tone. The tight, small-bead head gives way to hints of the chocolate mocha flavor of the malt. Like Dos Equis Amber, the complexity of Negra Modelo actually serves to enhance the flavors of Mexican cuisine. Its dark, malty flavors assimilate well with the same qualities that can be found in better, more full-flavored cigars.

Two other dark Mexican beers that have been sold in the United States are seasonal offerings for the holidays. Those who have enjoyed Nochebuena or Commemorativa Navidad are fortunate to know firsthand that Mexican brewers can go well beyond light lagers. Unfortunately, availability of these brands will be spotty or non-existent for this year, and they were not available for our tasting.

There are more than a dozen Mexican brands on the market in the United States, but Modelo and Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma reserve several for domestic consumption: Victoria, Estrella, Negra Leon, Ballena, Montejo, Indio Oscura and Superior are all brands that do not make it across the border.

For the record, Mexican beer that does make it to the United States outstrips other imported brands. Corona is the No. 2 import behind Heineken and for the past several years has been slowly increasing its sales after a meteoric rise in the 1980s. And it commands about 29 percent of the Mexican market--giving the Modelo brewery more than half the market share.

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