Cinco de Mayo Beer Primer
Expert Advice

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Did someone say Corona? Officially, Mexican-style lager is not a beer style at all, according to the two organizations that American brewers turn to when seeking guidelines for their beers: the Brewers Association and the Beer Judge Certification Program. But try convincing people who love the fizzy, crisp, sessionable lagers that their Cinco de Mayo go-to isn’t one-of-a-kind. Moreover, the lack of official guidelines doesn’t stop homebrewers or craft breweries from brewing their own versions.

Silver Bluff Brewing Co. in Georgia takes its Mexican lagers so seriously that it offers an education about them on its website. Traditional Mexican lagers coming from south of the border use corn to cut malt, which results in enhanced crispness. It isn’t a practice that many American craft breweries emulate, though some probably experiment with it from time to time. The recipes most likely brewed and tapped for an American audience recall the beers that Austrian and German immigrants brought to Mexico in the 19th century.

“The beer recipes they brought with them were closer to Vienna Lager than Clara, and for years Vienna and Vienna Lagers brewed with maize were the standard in popular commercial Mexican beer brewing,” states Silver Bluff Brewing’s website. (Clara is the common name for clean lagers brewed with low bitterness and high clarity.) Darker lagers followed and in 1890 the beers that would become Dos Equis Lager and Amber were brewed. Today, American craft breweries tend to use pilsner malt for lighter Mexican-style lagers and Vienna, Munich or Victory to bring out an amber color.

At Silver Bluff Brewing, notes head brewer Brodie Pierce, “we really bridge the gap between traditional European lagers by using some pilsner, Vienna malt, and German noble hops, and more American-style craft beer by using the US, two-row barley, and Mexican Lager yeast.” The result? The Silver Bluff Mexican Lager, which is an amber-colored beer that is light in the mouth and renders a bit biscuit and caramel flavors. It won silver at the 2020 U.S. Open Beer Championship in the International-style Pilsner category.

El Sully by 21st Amendment Brewery is so good that it’s brewed year-round. This is one that uses flaked maize in its recipe that also features pilsner and Vienna malts. Try it from the tap if you’re in California, or pick up a six-pack in one of the 28 states, plus Washington, D.C., where 21st Amendment’s beers are distributed.

A darker cousin, Mexican Style Lager Dark, was announced in January of this year, but for spring and summer, Ska Brewing relies on its 22-year spring staple Mexican Logger. “The key ingredient in this beer is and always has been a very crisp, clean yeast strain,” said the brewery’s co-founder and CEO Dave Thibodeau in a press release. “We use a strain specifically from Mexico City that helps keep drinkability at the forefront with the malts and the hops hanging in the background.”

Three Creeks Brewing brings a taste of Mexico to Oregon with its Tres Arroyos Mexican Lager. Described as easy drinking, this low ABV lager is made with pilsner malt and Saaz hops to ensure a crisp, refreshing feel. Flaked maize is added for a dose of sweetness. Bring on the chips and salsa!

For beers influenced by many of Mexico’s flavorful exports (think horchata, chocolate, coffee), visit Cerveceria Colorado in Denver. Here among a long list of beers where the brewers “seek to honor the traditions, flavors and culture of Mexico by utilizing traditional Mexican ingredients, flavors and processes to create innovative styles of beer,” you will find ¡Venga! Mexican Lager. It is light and drinks nicely, especially when served with rimmed salt and a lime wedge. As the name Venga suggests in translation, “Come on! Let’s do it!”