Labor Day weekend has arrived, signaling the end of another summer. But wait! It’s time for one last weekend of bacchanalia in our backyards to toast a summer (hopefully) well spent. Or, maybe — with hurricane season ratcheting up and a heat wave engulfing the West Coast — we just need a drink to take the edge off. A light, easy, alcoholic drink. Enter the Mexican Lager.
Mexican macro beers are dominating the US market right now. Brands like Modelo and Dos Equis have seen 135 percent and 95 percent stateside growth respectively, over the last years. In fact, four of the ten fastest growing beer brands in the United States are from Mexico. And they’re not some frou-frou craft beers with too many hops and barrel aging (we all need a break sometimes). Nope. They’re old school Vienna Lagers and American Adjunct Lagers. These are easy beers at a good price that you can get pretty much anywhere — from a gas station to a grocery store to your corner 7-Eleven. Easy to drink. Easy to find. Refreshing. These are the perfect beers to cool down during a heat wave.
Chances are many of us are going to be making pit stops on the way home from work tonight to stock up our coolers and garage fridges with enough beer to make it to Tuesday. Chances are there’s going to be a can or bottle of Mexican beer tempting you on said beer run. Give into the temptation. Mexican lagers are a delight.
Ah, but which 30-rack for $19.99 deserves that coveted space in your cooler? That’s why we’re here! We’ve gone through and objectively ranked our favorite beers from south of the border (okay, there’s some subjectivity too). Are we right? Is there even such thing as “wrong” when it comes to light Mexican lagers?
10. CORONA LIGHT
Americans love them some light beer. So, let’s throw those light beer loving people a bone with Corona Light. Is this beer any good? Sure. Why not. It’s a 4.1 percent ABV light lager that goes down like a slightly alcoholic-minerally-carbonated-water (with an ever so slight corn husk and dry hay edge to the taste). There’s a mild metallic bitterness on the finish that may be due to the light shock from the clear bottle.
Note: It’s definitely better with a lime wedge.
Another clear bottle, so beware of how old it is. That light shock will skunk these beers fast. Sol sits a moderate 4.5 percent ABV, so only a nudge more alcoholic than a classic ‘light’ beer. And, ho boy, this beer is light. There’s a distinct un-cooked corn note buried under hints of bready malt and whispers of hop bitterness, but it sure can get metallic if the beer has been in the bottle too long.
8. CORONA EXTRA
So, there’s a kind of racist misconception about why you should use a lime in Mexican beers. The old (racist) idea was that Mexican beer plants and distribution were so filthy that you needed a lime to kill all that bad bacteria on the bottle. Fuck that. That’s not why you add a lime. The lime is added to cover up the shortcuts the brewers take with sub par malts and hops to keep prices as low as possible. The lime amps of the flavors that the beer doesn’t have — a little bitterness and a splash of sweet. Sound familiar? You should add a lime to Miller Light too. It’ll do the same trick.
So adding a lime to a Corona is a must. It’s like an assemble-at-home step to the brewing process. And when you add that lime it’s a perfectly serviceable beer with a light texture, mineral base, and distant echoes of bitter hops and sweet malt. It’ll undeniably cool you down and quench that thirst. Just don’t forget that green wedge.
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Montejo is a big step up from the Coronas of the world. It’s called a Pilsner, but it’s a long way from the beauty of a Pilsner Urquell. Expect a light lager more akin to PBR. There’s a real sense of ‘lager’ here with a slight bitterness from the hops, a rush of dry grass, and a sweet toast sense from the malts. There’s a refreshingly light edge that makes it the perfect counterpoint to spice-forward foods and long summer nights.
This Vienna Lager clocks in at a low four perfect ABV — which is kind of perfect for day drinking. This is an easy beer. There’s a light sense of hops and sweet notes of toasty malt in there with the slightest touches of dry corn. But it’s really the minerally carbonated water that stands out in this beer. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing on a hot day. It’s absolutely refreshing.
Bruvado comes in at five percent ABV, making it on the higher end alcohol-wise. It’s also an outlier in the taste department. There’s a velvet smoothness to the dry hints of hop bitterness, fresh husks, and malt sweetness. This beer also comes in ready to make Michelada packs, which you can assemble at home like a cool, boozy lego set.
4. PACIFICO CERVEZA CLARA
Pacifico gets a big bump for coming in a brown bottle — no light shock here! The beer is less likely to get that skunky metallic edge that you’ll find with the clear bottled Mexican beers. There’s a distinct floral, apple, and spice flourishes way below the sweet corn, mildly bitter hop, and biscuit malt. That extra dimension of flavors puts Pacifico over the top when it comes to easy Mexican Lagers.
Does nostalgia count? Yes. Yes, it does. A tall boy of Tecate goes a long way. It’s a great analog to American counterparts like PBR, Rainier, or Coors. But it somehow feels like you’re drinking something a little better than those beers. There’s a definite mineral soda water vibe with a very mild grassy hop and a touch of sweet malt to the beer, making it super easy to drink. Is it better than Pacifico? Maybe not. But it’s cheaper. And no one’s ever opened a cooler at a barbecue and been mad to see it full of Tecate cans.
2. DOS EQUIS AMBER LAGER
This is the beer you hand to someone at your party who’s asking for a ‘craft’ beer. There’s a real bitter hoppiness that hints at pine resin leveled against buttered-toast malt sweetness with echoes of caramel. This beer has a sense of being a ‘beer’ — not just slightly alcoholic mineral water that needs a lime to bring the bitter and sweet.
With a 4.7 percent ABV, it’s a crowd pleaser for light beer drinkers and aficionados alike.
1. NEGRA MODELO
This was a tough one to rate against Dos Equis. But, in the end, it came down to the taste and a harder hitting 5.4 percent ABV. There’s just a little more going on here, without it getting pretentious or overwrought. There’s a sense of earthy notes, cornmeal, nut, wildflowers, and dry fields with a good balance of very light hop bitterness and malty creaminess that verges on brown sugar. It’s another crowd pleaser that’s perfect for a hot day in a backyard.