Cinco de Mayo is a relatively small holiday in Mexico. Most Mexicans barely give it a nod. But, as is the case with many pseudo-holidays, American beer companies realized it was the perfect way to market beer. In this case, Mexican beer. So, with that, the practically unknown Cinco de Mayo morphed into an all-American beer bash.
History tells us that on May 5, 1862, a ragtag assembly of 2,000 Mexicans defeated a French army of 6,000 in the Franco-Mexican war in the Mexican state of Puebla, which marks the day with parades and parties. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Mexicans in the U.S. began to see the day as a way to commemorate their heritage. This gave rise to bigger celebrations sponsored by Mexican beer companies.
Mexico has a long, somewhat convoluted brewing history. Fermented beverages are nothing new there; before the land was overrun by Europeans, ancient civilizations produced alcoholic beverages from maize (corn), agave and even cocoa beans. Some of these beverages are still around. (“Colonizing Mexican Lagers,” Folio Weekly, June 1, 2016)
When the Conquistadors arrived, so did beer. Though beer was difficult and expensive to make, in the mid-1500s, Spaniard Alfonso de Herro was granted the first official beer concession in the New World on the condition that he send one-third of his profits back to Spain in taxes. Despite efforts to grow local crops to cut costs, his brewing effort floundered under the weight of this taxation.
After Mexico’s War of Independence in the early 1800s, ending European regulation and taxes, beer production began an uptick in Mexico. By the mid-1800s, an influx of German immigrants amped up the Mexican brewing industry. Brews such as Corona, Negra Modelo, Dos Equis and Sol all owe their existence to German brewers settling in Mexico.
As that industry grew, events north of the border–namely Prohibition–helped strengthen a brisk beer trade with the U.S. By the 1920s, there were more than 35 breweries operating in Mexico. As consolidation began, two major players emerged to control beer south of the border–Grupo Modelo and Cerveceria Cuautehmoc-Moctezuma.
Because of the Bavarian influence, most beer produced by big brewers are Vienna-style light lagers, with only a few amber or dark styles. Ales are few and far between in Mexico, but there are some intrepid microbreweries trying to make inroads with more flavorful ales.
Ideally, the best way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo is with a cold cerveza at one of the area’s many Mexican restaurants. To help with your beer decision, here’s some info on popular Mexican brews.
Cerveza Pacifico Clara
More commonly known as Pacífico, this Pilsner-style beer was first brewed in 1900 when three Germans opened the Cerveceria del Pacífico brewery in Mazatlán.
Dos Equis began life as a Vienna lager, Siglo XX, brewed by German-born Wilhelm Hasse at his Moctezuma Brewery to welcome the 20th century. The amber version is the more traditional and most closely resembles the lager it’s based on.
A Munich Dunkel Lager, the name simply means dark lager. First brewed in Mexico by Austrian immigrants, it was introduced as a draft beer in 1926.