Despite the fact that we're not next door to Mexico, Canadians have been increasingly adopting celebrating Cinco de Mayo in recent years. The reason why is simple enough: It's brightly coloured and upbeat and, at least in my case, I'll take any excuse I can get to eat “tacos al pastor.” It's one of the few times of year people go out of their way to purchase Mexican beer.
It’s a little ironic that that should be the case. Mexico’s brewing industry began in earnest during the brief reign of Emperor Maximilian. He was an Austrian nobleman that the French were trying to install as Mexico’s ruler, and Austrian brewers arrived with him. Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates a Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla that temporarily saved Mexico from foreign rule.
Sensible people that they were, they eventually executed Maximilian and kept the brewers.
This is the main reason that the Mexican beers that we’re all familiar with are lagers. Another important factor is the hot, dry climate which demands a light, quenching beverage.
Corona is likely the beer that most people associate with Mexico due to a clever series of ad campaigns and the somewhat pleasing practice of jamming a lime wedge into the neck of the bottle. It does more or less what’s asked of it: It is cold, refreshing and doesn’t get in the way of spicy food. The ability to customize the amount of citrus flavour is a plus. Mexican people do drink Corona, but it is primarily brewed for export at this point.
Tecate seems to be more popular around Tijuana, and is sometimes accompanied by both lime and salt. It’s slightly darker in colour but there’s not a great deal more body or character. It’s not really designed to be savoured or thought about. It’s designed to quench your thirst.
Two of the better mainstream beers that have come out of Mexico are Vienna lagers, which should not come a surprise given the brewing industry’s heritage. Dos Equis and Negra Modelo contain some mild notes of caramel and roast, with Negra Modelo being the darker of the two. Either of these two options are likely to go with fried or grilled foods, making them your best option for a Cinco de Mayo feast.
Like just about everywhere else in the world, Mexico has a burgeoning craft beer industry. If you’re in Alberta, you’re lucky enough to have a couple of Mexican craft beers to try. Cerveceria Cucapa makes Chupacabras Pale Ale, named after the legendary cryptozoological goatsucker. They also make a brown ale called Obscura, which is relatively light in body despite featuring chocolate in the flavour. I suspect it would go perfectly with a mole sauce.
Jordan St. John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. He’ll take any excuse to watch El Mariachi again.