Mexican lagers taste like the weekend. Not just when the fifth of May falls on a Saturday, either. Cracking open an ice-cold Corona or straight-from-the-cooler Tecate is reminiscent of beach trips, cookouts, game days, and sunny afternoons doing or avoiding yard work.
The category gets its crisp, light flavor profile from the German-style Vienna lager that informed Mexican brewing traditions. It’s widely palatable and wildly popular.
Last year Mexican beer comprised more than two-thirds of American imports, lead by Corona and its successful advertising campaign, “Find Your Beach.” Dos Equis, America’s sixth-largest beer import, recently retired Jonathan Goldsmith, its iconic “Most Interesting Man in the World.” Goldsmith’s nine-year reign reportedly multiplied brand growth and turned him into the most meme’d person on the planet.
The category’s pervasive marketing and distribution inspires fierce brand loyalty. Every member of VinePair’s staff has a cerveza of choice. When we visited nearby grocers to purchase sample bottles for an in-office tasting, total strangers stocking the cold cases eagerly volunteered their favorites. (“Pacifico? You don’t want Pacifico. I like Corona Extra Gold. It’s cleaner.”)
Executive Editor Emily Saladino and Senior Staff Writer Cat Wolinski blind-tasted seven Mexican lagers: Sol, Corona, Modelo Especial, Tecate, Dos Equis, Victoria, and, yes, Pacifico. All were served chilled, in unmarked glasses, and without limes for maximum flavor transparency.
As we embarked upon this experiment, we wondered if personal brand allegiance affects perceptions of taste. (It does.) We worried some of the beers’ weekend magic might be lost because we were tasting on a Wednesday, during the workday, in a windowless conference room where we also hold our editorial pitch meetings. (It was.)
We recorded our individual impressions and rated the unmarked beers as a team. A colleague who monitored the tasting then dramatically revealed the lagers’ identities. The results were alternatively shocking (Corona) and oddly validating (Tecate).
Here are seven leading Mexican lagers, tasted and ranked.
An almost-amber color led tasters to believe this pour would offer more malt-driven flavors and aromas. Instead, we were met with the taste of dirty taps and an almost sour finish. “Like when you get a dirty beer on draft, but it came out of a bottle,” a perplexed taster noted. “Why does it taste like that?” asked another. No redeeming qualities were detected.
In a shocking twist (no lime), Corona totally bombed our blind test. “Tastes like a late night,” one of us said. “It smells very sweaty,” commented the other. Overall, tasters got Heineken-like skunk aroma and flavor. Pour one out for Corona. Or, just pour Corona out.
“Water” was the primary impression for one taster, followed by “it tastes like the dusty bodega from which I procured it.” Another taster was offended by an immediate chemical aroma, with notes of nail polish remover and ethanol on the nose, and a stale, bitter-but-off finish. This beer may have seen better days.
4. Dos Equis
Dos Equis was sweeter than the others from the start, with an upfront carbonation that quickly diminished. One taster noted its effervescence seemed to diminish as she sipped. “At first I thought it was very fizzy, then on second sip, it tasted flat.”
Sol is much like the sun for which it’s named: You may forget it’s there, but it keeps you alive. Notes of a “simple cereal grain, like Crispix” pleased one taster, while another felt satisfied by this beer’s simplicity. “Fizzy and yellow. End of story.”
“Barely there, in an enjoyable way,” one taster said. Another found the experience quite evocative: “I’m eating in a Mexican restaurant, and gulping it down with tacos that are too spicy.” The pure refreshment of this beer earned it a solid silver, but we’d venture to guess it would perform even better in the right setting.
The one, the only, Tecate. Undoubtedly the most pleasing and refreshing of our selection, Tecate inspired one taster to say, “It’s almost like a Pilsner — like a beer in its correct form.” It offered up a gentle aroma of sweet corn, followed by Champagne-like effervescence and a lightly bitter finish. Our collective favorite, Tecate looms large, any day of the week.