Long dominated by the largely stale Grupo Modelo/Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma duopoly, Mexico’s cerveza landscape has undergone radical change in recent years, with scores of microbreweries emerging across the country to quench the public’s new-found thirst for quality craft beer.
Mexico has always been one of the world’s leading beer producers (and consumers) but only now is the country beginning to take pride in brewing a diverse range of lovingly crafted premium beers. The rapid growth of the cerveza artesanal industry has been consolidated by new legislation limiting the exclusivity deals that Modelo and Cuauhtemoc have long used to keep the market firmly closed.
Visit Mexico and it will immediately become clear that there is so much more to the local beer than Corona (as good as it may be) or cases of cheap, flavorless Tecate. Having spent several years sampling the local chela (as beer is colloquially known in Mexico), I now present my ten favorite Mexican beer brands:
Having broken Modelo/Cuauhtemoc’s stranglehold over the domestic market, Minerva proclaims itself the leader of Mexico’s beer revolution. Founded in 2004 in Guadalajara – the home of an iconic statue of the Roman goddess from which the brewery takes its name – Minerva has grown impressively and can no longer be classed as a microbrewery. It has five flagship beers: Colonial, Imperial Stout, Malverde (controversially named after the patron saint of drug-traffickers) Pale Ale and Viena, plus several limited edition or seasonal variations, including El Dorado, a fruity IPA; Diosa Blanca, a white Belgian-style beer and Imperial Tequila Ale, a strong beer matured in oak barrels previously used to age tequila.
The Veracruz Brewering Company imports all of its ingredients from Germany and the Czech Republic. Such attention to detail certainly pays off as Criolla is streets ahead of many of its rivals. The 100% malt Vienna is good but the Pilsen is the real revelation. Frothy, golden, refreshing and slightly bitter, it is undoubtedly the best beer of its kind in Mexico.
3. Baja Brewing Company
One of Mexico’s largest independent breweries after Minerva, this Baja California-based business produces a wide range of beers including a light cream ale, a smoky Schwarzbier, a strong amber ale, a highly rated oatmeal stout and even a cool raspberry lager. The Baja Brewing Company establishments in popular resorts such as Cabo San Lucas have more options available on tap, including ever-changing seasonal beers, the intriguingly named Peyote Pale Ale, a non-alcoholic root beer, and a wonderfully refreshing Belgian-style wheat beer that comes garnished with a slice of orange.
Cerveza Region Purepecha is brewed in the western state of Michoacan, using spring water from the mountainous Zacapua region. Purepecha produces an English Brown Ale, a Pale Ale and an Oatmeal Stout, all of truly excellent quality.
Clear and light but with a distinctive flavor, Ventura is a delicious American-style blonde ale from Guadalajara. Distribution only began in January 2013 and production remains a very small-scale operation. Only available on tap in select bars and restaurants, it is served in English-style pint glasses bearing its distinctive white rabbit logo. It is worth hunting down.
Based in the town of Zempoala in the central state of Hidalgo, the Cerveceria Hacidenda produces three strong beers, all at seven percent alcohol by volume. The Hidalgo Stout is underwhelming but the Jaguar Pale Ale is refreshing and light and the sweet Catrina Red Ale has its own unique charm. The iconic bottles are lovingly decorated with bold and distinctive Mexican artwork.
Arguably the best of Mexico’s mass-produced beers, Bohemia is Cuauhtemoc-Moctezuma’s attempt at keeping up with/undermining the competition provided by an ever-increasing number of craft beers. Bohemia Clasica is a nice pale pilsner while the Obscura version is a dark and flavorsome Vienna-style lager. Two newer additions have also emerged in recent years: a so-so Chocolate Stout and the fruity and superior Weizen.
8. Negra Modelo
The only strong, dark beer in the Grupo Modelo repertoire, Negra Modelo is another Vienna-style lager first brewed by Austrian immigrants and introduced as a draft beer back in 1926. Smooth and sweet with hints of coffee, nuts and chocolate, it perfectly complements the spicy Mexican cuisine.
9. Noche Buena
Another product of the Cuauhtemoc-Moctezuma group, Noche Buena (Spanish for Christmas Eve) is a seasonal beer only available in cases of 12 during the festive period. A cleverly marketed and enduringly popular Christmas beverage, Noche Buena is a strong but sweet Bock-style beer with hints of caramel and a rich mahogany tone.
One of the best selling beers in the world, this one needs no introduction. Grupo Modelo’s flagship beer is a refreshing pale lager perfect for Mexico’s warm climate. Often served with a wedge of lime, Corona Extra is the perfect light beer, ideal for sipping when you’re in a bar or club, on the beach or by the pool.
Many of these beers will be available at Guadalajara’s answer to Oktoberfest: the sixth annual Festival de la Cerveza, held this year at the Omnilife Stadium from October 18 to 20. Click here for more information.