As the heat cranks up, folkslook foralternatives to the heavier ales they drink in the cooler months. The newest trend to meet this need is Mexican-style lager. Amazingly, these light, fizzy beers are among the best-selling brews in the world.
Why in the name of St. Arnold – patron saint of hop-pickers and brewers – would craft beer brewers create a light lager? It flies in the face of the reason, as craft beer usually means more flavor. Fear not, the light lagers being produced by craft brewers deliver on the crisp, light qualities of Mexican lagers with delightful flavor.
But before we talk more about American-brewed, Mexican-style lagers, let’s look at the style’s history.
Before Spanish colonization, fermented beverages in Mexico were made with agave juice. Various cultures also brewed a lesser-known beverage, tesgüino or izquiate, from corn. The light, amber-colored liquid once used in rituals is still made in some Mexican towns.
In 1543, the first European-style brewery permit was granted to Alfonso de Herrero, but Spain’s stiff taxes eventually led to his brewery’s failure. Nevertheless, beer landed on Mexico’s sunny shores. When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, colonial restrictions vanished and the industry flourished.
In the late 19th century, an influx of German immigrants led to a surge in Mexico’s beer industry. Light lagers became popular and, by 1918, there were 36 breweries. Over time, Mexican breweries consolidated to compete with American breweries; today, there are just two major brewing conglomerates, Grupo Modelo and FEMSA.
Mexican-style lager is basically a Vienna lager with a crisp, light body and spicy, almost herbal aromas and flavors. The maize usually added imparts a slight sweetness, creating an ideal beer to enjoy ice-cold on a blistering afternoon.
Today’s American craft brewers have taken these flavors and, while staying mostly true to the style, improved on them, often by amping up the flavor with hops and yeast strains. 21st Amendment’s El Sully takes a relatively traditional approach to the style with grassy hop notes and hints of lemon. The brewers of Oskar Blues’ Beerito took liberties with the malts, adding caramel or toffee hues.
As American craft brewers delve more into the style, it’s likely to evolve, just as pale ales and IPAs have. Because, well, it’s sort of the American way to make things our own.
Here are some Mexican-style lagers that taste so good, they don’t even need a lime.
Intuition Ale Works’ El Guapo
Brewed with Vienna and German pilsner malts and German bittering hops, this lager has a light and refreshing taste that pairs well with fishing the Intercostal.
Trader Joe’s Brewing Company’s Trader José Premium Lager
Brewed exclusively for the insanely popular grocery chain, this pleasant, unassuming beer is best enjoyed ice-cold, après beach beer.
Zeta Brewing Company’s Twin Finn Lager
Not strictly Mexican-style, this brew still exhibits its grainy, sweet characteristics. Try it when you’re in Jax Beach.