This is by no means the be-all end-all account of all Mexican ‘cervezas,’ but it is a good place to start for anyone looking to try some of Mexico’s macro- and micro-breweries if they decide to venture south of the US border. I spent time in two Mexican states while I was in the country: Yucatan and Quintana Roo, both on the beautiful Yucatan peninsula that’s bathed with beautiful turquoise ‘agua’ and is a great spot to go on vacation for anyone who wants to both relax and take in some history.
Lots of beer is drank in this part of the world, and a lot of it by tourists. Cancun is as spring-break as it gets, but most spring-breakers don’t get past Corona when they come down (which begs the question, how do they even get drunk?). And even though 90% of the Mexican beer market lies in the hands of only two parties, Mexico actually has a number of different breweries, and craft beer is starting to pop up around the country. So how does one get their hands on some Mexican beer while they’re on vacation in this part of the world? And what’s good to drink? Let’s go over some of the fine (and less than fine) Mexican beers available on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Corona – You’ve had it before. It often comes with a lime, or, ‘con limon’. Also comes in a clear bottle which would produce skunkiness in other beers, but Corona is made with a hop enzyme that is resistant to skunking. FYI.
Sol – While Corona is the most popular Mexican beer in the world, Sol is supposedly the most popular Mexican beer in Mexico. The flavours are similar either way.
Dos Equis – ‘I don’t always drink Dos Equis, but when I do, there’s not much else on tap.’ Okay, you can get this one all over too, and it’s nothing special, but there is a less common Dos Equis Amber, which is a little darker and tastier.
Groupo Modelo – The parent company which makes Corona. They also make several other similar tasting beers including Modelo Especial, Modelo Light (which comes in a blue bottle, a real rarity in the beer world), Pacifico, Victoria, Montejo, Barrilito, as well as some ‘light’ variants, some micheladas, which are effectively beer cocktails made from beer, lime juice and different sauces served in a salt-rimmed glass (does this even count as a beer? I don’t know), and a few dark diamonds in the rough. The most popular of these is Negra Modelo, which comes in a short brown bottle with a foil neck and cap, clocks in at 5.3%abv, and pours a medium amber colour (but trust me, when you’ve been drinking Corona all week, it’s the darkest beer you could imagine). It’s supposedly in the style of a Munich dunkel, albeit it’s a mass-market beer, so expect the usual watering down. You can find it in the US, but I’m not sure about Canada. It’s still worth seeking out, and better than its other dunkel partner Leon, which does not leave Mexican soil.
While I’m speaking of Mexican dunkels, Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma (don’t ask me to pronounce it), the other big brewer in Mexico (Sol, Dos Equis, Tecate), makes one as part of their Bohemia line (called Bohemia Obscura) which is slightly maltier and smoother than Negra Modelo, albeit harder to find. They also make a czech pilsener (titled simply Bohemia) that is almost bang-on style-wise, and was probably the best clear beer I had in Mexico. It has nice crisp hop flavours one would expect to find from any beer in a Prague cafe.
Most of these beers you can find in most any convenience store in the Yucatan. But in order to find micro-brews you’ll have to dig a little deeper, do some research, and venture out of your hotel.
Way over on the Northwestern part of Mexico in Baja California, Cucapa makes some of the most widely distributed microbrews in the country. They make a fairly wide range of American styles, including an APA, an IPA, a brown, an amber, a blonde, a rye, a barleywine, a stout, and more. The pale ale called Chupacabras Pale Ale boasts a mean looking picture of a chupacabra, the mythical Mexican farm animal blood-sucking creature, but the label looks a lot meaner than the beer itself tastes. The hops are very constrained; even when looking for them, they seem to only leave the briefest trace that they were ever there, just like the chupacabras victims do after he attacks. I expected the beer to be a little bolder. In fact, the other three Cucapa beers I tried – the Obscura Brown Ale, Honey Amber Ale, and Clasica Blonde – all lacked the hop bitterness characteristic of American styles. The Honey did have a lot of honey flavours though. Still, this company is surely worth seeking out if you’re in Mexico looking to try some different beer. They are pretty standard micro-brews, so you should find them at any Beer Box store – which is the Mexican craft beer store chain that sells Mexican craft beer as well as imports like Duvel, Paulaner, Erdinger, Guinness, etc. – in the country. I went into Playa Del Carmen and had some of these right at the store and took the rest out. There are actually two Beer Box stores in Playa del Carmen, and I fear I went to the smaller of the two. Oh well. There is also one in Cancun and one in Merida.
I also got a couple Minerva beers at said beer box. Minerva is another of the biggest craft beer producers in Mexico, and they focus on more classic styles as well as one or two non-classics. I tried were the Pale Ale, which is supposedly an English style pale that rings at 6%, which I found kind of odd, considering English pales are generally lower abv, but this actually won gold at the World Beer Cup in 2010 for English Mild. It did taste and especially feel (ie. low carbonation) like an English beer when I tried it, but would have been nicer to quaff at the pub rather than try to drink on a Mexican beach. It just didn’t feel right. I also had the Oscura, which tasted largely similar and gave me the same conflicting feelings the other beer gave me. Would it have been better in a Mexican pub at night with the chaps? Maybe. They also make an Imperial Tequila Ale, which I sadly missed out on, but is reportedly very unique. Next time. Also, this oscura/obscura theme seems to be popping up again and again, and I believe in Mexico (and other Spanish speaking countries, possibly) there is a three tier system in beer colour classification, where clear beer is ‘clara,’ amber beer is ‘obscura,’ and dark beer is… I’m not sure, ‘negra,’ maybe.
Being unaware of their existences, I stumbled upon two other micro-brews in some of the finer restaurants I visited in the Yucatan, both of which were local to the state of Quintana Roo, right on the Caribbean coast. I first had one from the Independent Brewing Company in Playa Del Carmen called simply Akumal. I thought it was an appropriate sounding beer at the time because I was sitting at a beautiful little oasis of a restaurant called “La Buena Vida” in the town of Akumal (which translates to ‘place of the turtle, and the beer label reflects that). I didn’t realize when I ordered it that it was a very local micro-brew, but I was so surprised and happy by the find that I ordered 2 more. Akumal (the beer) is hazy and a yellow-orange colour. There’s some malty sweetness followed by a hint of bitterness, but definitely a lot more flavour than the domestics I drank. It was served with a lime, but it is just as good without. I believe this is currently the only beer this company produces, but hopefully they come out with more.
Mango Moon Shining Brewery
This one was by far the most happy stumble-on I made in Mexico. The brewery is tiny. They don’t even have a website. They don’t even have a facebook page. They’re simply located in a fishing B&B called Costa de Cocos in Xcalak, a town of 375 people, 4 hours south of Cancun on the border of Belize. I’m already planning my trip there. I just need to work on my fishing. Their one beer, called Tarpon Tale Pale Ale was the first and only beer I had in Mexico that I would consider hoppy. Unfiltered, it clocks in at 6.2% and really does come off as a good American Pale Ale. But this really is a hard beer to find. Somehow, they had it at Turtle Bay Cafe and Bakery in Akumal, and I was just lucky enough to be in there getting ice cream (which was also excellent, and made in small batches) when I spotted a local beer menu that also had some Cucapa, this, and oddly, some Blue Moon. In any event, it was my best find.